Written by Christy Hinko Tuesday, 20 November 2012 00:00
South Farmingdale Fire Commissioner Thomas Mastakouris said within the first couple of days of the storm recovery, many of the out of state workers were sleeping in their utility trucks in vacant parking lots. The temperatures were still at freezing overnight when some of the workers were sleeping out in their trucks.
Village Clerk Brian Harty told the Farmingdale Observer, “The Village Hall and the Village Fire Department have hosted 46 line and tree crew personnel from Georgia and California along with National Grid personnel from the Boston area.” He said 29 are sleeping on cots in the firehouse and 17 are on set up next door in the Village Hall courtroom.
Down the street, the South Farmingdale Fire Department had hosted dozens of electricians from North Carolina for a two-week rotation, and a tree-cutting crew from Ohio. They have since moved on to another assignment, while an electrical crew from Sturgeon Electric of Denver has moved in.
South Farmingdale Fire Chief Ed Purpora said more than 50 cots were set up in their fire headquarters’ second floor conference room to host the rotations of out-of-state workers.
“Usually what happens after a natural disaster, there are contingency plans to help expedite the recovery,” Mastakouris explained; he said this is the same kind of assistance that firefighting and medic crews from across the country participate in when crews out west battle widespread wildfires.
“If it wasn’t for them, we would not be back so quickly,” said Mastakouris about the utilities. “Neighbors were very appreciative.”
The first wave of bolstered assistance has come from tree-cutters and electricians; once the power is back, the island will see a wave of plumbing and heating crews come through to restore water services and hot water boilers to many of the homes that have had severe damage.
Mastakouris said the police and fire departments have received an increase in distress calls, since the hurricane and nor’easter, from residents who are still without heat, reports of hypothermia.
The Observer spoke with Sturgeon Electric’s General Foremen Shane Park and Josh Wanrow about their assignment on Long Island.
Typically the Sturgeon team, now in South Farmingdale, works centrally located in Colorado. After Hurricane Sandy, Wanrow said their crew was assembled in Colorado and sent to Connecticut. On Nov. 9 they left Connecticut and traveled down to Long Island for their current assignment.
“For the amount of power that was out, it’s devastating to lose that much of the grid,” said Wanrow. He said Long Island Power Authority and National Grid are doing what they can to get things restored.
Park said he overheard one utility worker say about the electric on Long Island, “It’s taken us 50 years to build it and Mother Nature only five hours to destroy it.” He said, “It’s going to take some time to get this all back.”
Each morning the crew receives its assignment from the Long Island utility and heads out to complete the work within Farmingdale and the neighboring communities. Other supplemental utility workers are also stationed throughout Long Island, also completing day-to-day assignments for the power company.
He said although they do not usually spend this much time together when they are working back in Denver, guys come and go, but they have a core group that works takes similar assignments and regularly works well together under deployed circumstances.
“They [the workers] all knew the conditions would be less than comfortable, no hotels; everyone is taking it pretty well,” said Wanrow. He said this is the group that agreed to the conditions, so they could help get the job done.
Like many of the guys in their team, Park and Wanrow have families anxiously waiting for their return back in Colorado. Assignments like this one are likened to a military deployment; the separation is trying and at times difficult. Park’s wife and children are used to his deployments. Wanrow said his family is still trying to adjust to him being away from home.
For many of the workers, this is their first time in New York. Park said, “Everyone has been really nice to us.” Park and Wanrow agreed that one of the best things about this assignment has been the fire department’s hospitality. Park said, “They have opened their door to us and have helped with whatever we need.”
They each have a lot of experience with disaster recovery work, five ice storms, and a couple of hurricanes under their belts. Similarly though, both foremen agree that leaving their families is the worst part of these kinds of jobs.