Written by Cynthia Paulis, firstname.lastname@example.org Saturday, 15 March 2014 00:00
Last week, Assemblyman Joseph Saladino, along with Nassau County Legislator Michael Venditto and Mayor Jeff Pravato of Massapequa Park, hosted an event at the Massapequa Fire Department to honor the 279 firefighters for their heroic efforts during Hurricane Sandy with official New York Certificates of Merit.
The event was to also introduce a new bill to the New York State Legislation which will empower county executives to mandate that an electric utility provider shut off power to portions of neighborhoods in the event of a disaster.
“What happened was, members of the Massapequa Fire Department came to me to let me know that one of the most frustrating and worse things that happened during Hurricane Sandy was that they could not get the power company to shut the power down to a neighborhood where firefighters were walking in waist deep salt water,” said Saladino. “It was very dangerous and very serious. So this is an opportunity on behalf of the residents of Long Island to thank the fire department, and the emergency responders, to show our appreciation but at the same time do something on the state level to better protect them.”
Gerard Keuchler, first assistant chief of the Massapequa Fire Department, said the Superstorm and the days that followed were filled with dangerous situations.
“We had 17 working fires during the course of those days, we had eight working fires during that night that we couldn’t even get to, and another dozen we did get to and manage to put out,” he said. “We rescued people from homes and cars that were stuck and everything in between.”
Keuchler explained that trying to get the power company to cooperate in shutting off the power was an issue.
“We had a meeting with the Office of Emergency Management Commissioner and the chiefs of the fire department post storm to see if they had a plan in place to shut the power off when the water got to a certain height and were told that LIPA would not come to an agreement to specify on a water height,” he said. “I asked the commissioner who can force them to turn off the electric and his answer was the governor, he is the only one who can tell them what to do. So that is what this [legislation] came from.”
Nassau County Legislator Michael Venditto had high praise for the firefighters. During Venditto’s speech, he discussed listening in on all of the emergency calls made to the county executive and town supervisor.
“There were calls coming in from seniors and people of all ages, fearing for their lives, fearing that they would be drowning, holding on for what they thought would be the last time,” said Venditto. “Yet we as a county did not suffer one life lost and that is directly because of the work each and every one of you did that night and the days there after.”
Saladino, who lost his own home to Sandy discussed the bravery of the firefighters during one of greatest natural disasters in American history.
“What you have done as our emergency responders has been remarkable,” he said. “Of the 279 members of this fabulous and very special department, all of you are incredibly brave and much more than firemen and emergency responders.”
Saladino explained why he is entering the bill into Albany called the Emergency Responders Safety Act, which will empower county executives across the state to be able to mandate that the utility be shut off to a section of a neighborhood where the experts know that there is a danger to life.
“This bill will serve as a testament to protecting the people who protect us,” said Saladino.
Massapequa Park Mayor Jeff Pravato joined by Deputy Mayor Teresa Spinosa, and trustees Richard Begandy and Daniel Pearl, added his praise and thanks. Pravato recalled hearing those emergency calls.
“It was a trying time,” he said. “It was a disaster worse than Katrina; unfortunately we are not treated that way up here. I have always said that this fire department is second to none. When you need them they are always there for you. I can’t say it enough, you guys are the best.”