By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicholas S. Tenorio
Breezy Point is a beachfront New York borough of Queens and home to the nations second largest concentration of Irish-Americans. This community of fewer than 5,000 full-time residents is also home to three of New York City’s 10 remaining volunteer fire departments.
A community disproportionately Irish-American. A community disproportionately firefighter.
It comes as no surprise then that Breezy Point volunteer firefighters were among the first responders when super storm Hurricane Sandy struck the community Oct. 29. Two weeks later, with the flames extinguished and the sirens quiet, it is still firefighters like Kevin Adams from Engine 48 and their impromptu volunteer organization, Operation Breezy Pump & Gut (OBPG), who are leading the rebuilding effort.
“It’s been a week already, just getting people who live here who need help matched up with firefighters and other volunteers who have been coming in,” said Erin Corcorin Daly, a part-time resident and the de facto coordinator of OBPG.
“Volunteers help people get their sheetrock, insulation and junk out of their basements so that the houses don’t get moldy,” said Daly. “We’re just trying to save the houses that can be saved here, since so many were destroyed.”
A lot of people didn’t realize how bad the damage was, said Adams.
“My objective was to get in and gut these homes,” said Adams. “Get the water out so the home that is still structurally sound, isn’t going to be ruined through the course of the winter due to mold coming in and taking over.”
Unlike many residents, Adams’ home in Breezy Point is his only. The fire spared his home, but the first floor and basement were completely destroyed by flooding.
“What these guys are doing here, I couldn’t believe,” said Jim Donelan, a retired Marine and Breezy Point homeowner who’s home sustained major flood damage. “They’re great guys, they’re great guys. I don’t know what I could do to repay them.”
Donelan and his wife, Rose Mary, lost nearly all of their furniture and many personal affects due to the flooding. One five-man OBPG team spent an entire afternoon removing damaged drywall and pulling out wet insulation at the Donelan home. Donelan said he has no idea what he would have done if it were not for the firefighters with OBPG.
Adams estimates that nearly 100 volunteers have assisted OBPG with as many as five repair teams working at once. The volunteers have lent assistance to more than 75 Breezy Point homes.
Adams said he plans to continue with OBGP for another 30 days. At that point they will see if there are still more neighbors who need help.
Along the bayside beach of Breezy Point is a reminder of the community’s legacy. A cross-shaped piece of steel from the World Trade Center rests on a platform containing the names of 29 Breezy Point residents who lost their lives on 9/11.
“This community was hit particularly hard [by 9/11],” said Daly. “The fact that we had this major disaster, 100 homes burned down, plus 3,000 homes displaced – thousands of residents don’t know where they’re going; people who have never lived anywhere else but here for generations – everybody’s got pretty good resolve.”
“It’s a big puzzle, and we’re just a little piece of the puzzle,” said Adams. “As long as we can keep putting the pieces back together…things will slowly start coming back together.”