Even before Hurricane Sandy made its destructive landfall on the northeast United States Oct. 29, a team of Montgomery County fire rescue officials, police and other specialists had arrived at Fort Dix near Trenton, N.J.
Mobilized Oct. 28, Maryland Task Force 1 was one of nine regional search and rescue units deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist area first responders both during the height of the storm and immediately afterward, said unit coordinator and veteran paramedic Assistant Chief Scott Graham.
A group of professionals consisting of firefighters, paramedics, police communications experts, structural engineers, doctors, hazardous materials experts and others, was prepared for the worst, and Sandy did not disappoint, Graham said.
“In my 20 plus years of doing urban search and rescue, this was one of the most physically and mentally taxing deployments I've been on,” said Graham, who was also deployed to assist Hurricane Katrina victims in August 2005, after the task force returned Nov. 6 from a nine-day deployment.
The task force was almost immediately sent to Queens to assist New York fire officials with between 400 and 500 water rescues and more than 50 fires that took place during the height of the storm, Graham said. In the aftermath, rescue workers were afforded almost no time for rest as temperatures plummeted and nearly 800,000 residents were left powerless, he said.
“You have millions of people who live in New York alone, then coupled with the fact that this was an October storm so temperatures at night were dropping into the low 40s,” Graham said. “ ... The members of the task force realize when they sign up that they're going to be worked very hard for at least the first 36 hours pretty much without stop; You rested where you were sitting.”
Following the storm’s passing in Maryland, additional units from the area began arriving for deployments across the region. A group of 25 Maryland State Troopers arrived in Fort Dix late Nov. 4 to assist law enforcement agencies in Monmouth and Ocean counties with their regular duties, said Sgt. Marc Black, a state police spokesman. A total of 11 troopers returned to Maryland Saturday, but 11 more volunteers left that same day to replace them, Black said.
“They were deployed to handle normal police activities depending on their expertise, so we have, for instance, members of the dive team, K-9 units and investigators, as well as patrol troopers,” Black said. “Whatever they are needed to assist with they are available as an additional resource in those areas.”
Even law enforcement groups that stayed local during the storm have found ways to assist relief efforts elsewhere. Youth members of the Montgomery County Police Explorers Post 1986 organized a food donation drive Saturday in conjunction with the Giant Food store at 1280 East West Highway in Silver Spring, collecting 46 boxes of canned food, pastas, deodorant, toilet paper, baby formula and other supplies for storm victims in New Jersey, said Officer Dan Lane, a Gaithersburg city police officer and Post 1986 advisor.
“We’re always discussing new ways to give back, so for them to go, ‘Hey, we see another community less fortunate than we are, what can we do to step up to the plate?’ That does nothing but amaze me even more,” Lane said of the 14 to 20-year-old explorers who organized the drive and delivered the boxes to a New Jersey church. “The fact that we were from Maryland and it was teenagers who came up with the idea to come up there definitely had an effect.”