People of the Year –– The volunteers of the Merrick Fire Department
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“A lot of the guys went way out of their way,” Luparello said. “There were members wading through water. It was like rapids. There were a lot of heroics that people don’t know about.”
One of those who were in the water was 18-year-old Luke Minardi, a St. John’s University freshman who is studying homeland security, and who had been a Merrick firefighter for just under six months when the storm hit, after serving as a junior firefighter since he was 11.
On the evening of Oct. 29, Minardi was assigned to a boat crew that launched a 13-foot inflatable from the Gap parking lot at Lindenmere Drive and Merrick Road. Minardi recalled being worried as the crew made its way deep into south Merrick. Downed trees blocked entire streets, and there were live wires sparking in the water seemingly at every turn. At one point near Cammans Pond, Minardi said, he and his fellow firefighters had to disembark and lift the boat over a fallen tree, because there was no way around it. To the left and right, he said, tangled wires flared amid the branches.
“We’ve never launched a boat in a street,” Minardi said. “It was a little scary. You had to think on your feet.”
Minardi was the designated point man for the boat crew, meaning that he had to wade ahead and feel for anything that might damage the craft. Wearing a wetsuit, he poked at the submerged street in front of him with a long pole, checking for drains that might have opened up when manhole covers washed away. One wrong step and Minardi could have fallen into a drain and drowned.
Then there was 24-year firefighting veteran Larry Schenfeld, a 42-year-old father. He was the point man at a basement fire that erupted when a generator failed. Schenfeld waded through 3½ feet of water –– while fire raged above his head.
Schenfeld explained that firefighters had to search the basement, which had been converted into an apartment, because they believed residents might be trapped inside. Luckily, they weren’t.
“God forbid someone was in there,” said First Assistant Chief Gargan, 41, who will become department chief in January, and who was in charge of operations south of Merrick Road during the storm.