For firefighters, Sandy was unlike any storm before

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Members from the Scullville Volunteer Fire Company navigate a boat through  the rising flood waters during Hurricane Sandy Members from the Scullville Volunteer Fire Company navigate a boat through the rising flood waters during Hurricane Sandy

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – Dealing with trying to get their suits to dry out, replacing lost or damaged equipment and performing maintenance on their vehicles from saltwater exposure, the men and women from Egg Harbor Township’s five volunteer fire companies were still handling Hurricane Sandy-related issues on Friday, Nov. 9, when Fire Department Chief William Danz, Cardiff Volunteer Fire Company Chief Rob Winkler and the company’s Capt. Bill Danz sat down with The Current to share the stories of calls they responded to during the historic storm.

The department was put into action starting Friday, Oct. 26, William Danz said, with the peak in their activity occurring on Monday, Oct. 29 when the storm came ashore.

“Calls started Monday morning at 8 a.m. with the call to evacuate the West Atlantic City motels and for people to heed the warnings to leave,” he said. Firefighters joined township police in going door to door in the low-lying areas of the township, including Seaview Harbor, Anchorage Poynte and Sea Village Marina.

By noon, the companies began what ended up being four hours of water rescues.

“At that time in West Atlantic City, the water was knee deep back in near Bay Avenue,” he said. “The fire department took 14-foot boats from the Atlantic City line back to Florence Avenue and issued a last chance to leave. Some people refused to leave and we had people who didn’t bother to answer the door.”

However, in all 70 people were evacuated out of their homes by using township dump truck, which transported them to the West Atlantic City fire station. From there, school buses took the residents to nearby shelters.

At 4 p.m. all first responders were called back off of the streets as the storm intensified.

“Around 7 p.m. it died down when the eye was right over us and we went back out, and we were involved in a rescue on Somers Point-Mays Landing road out near Green Tree Golf Course,” he said. “Someone tried to leave their home along the river with the tide coming up.”

Bill Danz, one of the company’s water rescue swimmers, said the water was waist deep at that time. Using a township front end loader and the township fire chief’s vehicle, he helped rescue a mother, her 2-year-old child and then headed to their home, where her husband was stranded with a medical issue.

“He was accidently bit by his dog, so we had to go get him so he could receive medical attention at the hospital,” he said. “In the meantime, we rescued another lady who was just standing out along the road and was stranded. So we rescued her at the same time.”

Later at approximately, 11 p.m., seven more residents were rescued from their West Atlantic City home, according to Winkler.

“They were unaware we were evacuating and got stuck,” Winkler said. “We sent in our rescue swimmers. By then the water was deep. The barrier that goes down the Black Horse Pike had water cresting over the top.”

Bill Danz said he realized the storm was unlike any other the region had experienced when he arrived at that call.

“There was a houseboat in the middle of the Pike,” he said. “That right there sent a message. The water was running. It was moving fast enough that boats were useless to us –  moving fast enough that it was hard to keep our footing as we were moving to the houses.”

Danz said the situation got even more tenuous when he was sitting in the house waiting for the front-end loader to return to get the rest of the family.

“I see a flash out side and I think it’s the strobe on the loader.  I open the door and I see high tension lines arching away. I think, ‘Great, now I am in 4-5 feet of water and I am seeing this.’ Then you start to think, ‘where’s this going to go? Let’s get out of here, and let’s get out of there now.’”

William Danz said the department has never had to battle conditions like those that Hurricane Sandy dealt out.

“In the 10 years we’ve had a technical rescue team, we’ve only had to deal with individual water rescues when we have to go after a single person. This is the first mass water operation that we’ve had to do. To evacuate the whole West Atlantic City, Longport Boulevard and Sea Village Marina, it was a massive effort. It was all over the township.”

The department had some assistance from local fire departments, he said. Mays Landing, Estell Manor, Absecon and Collings Lakes lent personnel.

“Our operation went very well. We kept it under control, but it beat the guys up. When you spend three to four hours wading through waist-deep water getting beat up, it’s a long time,” he said, noting the ladies auxiliary was there supporting the firefighters as well, cooking food and delivering coffee to them. “It’s a hard thing to train for – you don’t know what a storm’s going to bring. But they did exceptional.”

Danz said the residents of the township should learn a valuable lesson from the storm.

“The people of the township need to heed the evacuation notice. When the governor, your local municipality, police department and fire department say you need to go, you need to go,” he said, expressing frustration toward the residents who waited until the storm was under way to call for help.

“These guys – all volunteers – they left their families at home to put themselves in harm’s way to help people who did not heed the warnings.”



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