It just happened that I was accompanying my husband on a business trip to New York City this weekend, so I had hoped to get out to Long Island to see how Roswell’s old fire truck had weathered its drive from Roswell to Island Park a few weeks ago when our city donated a surplus truck to a city that had lost theirs in Hurricane Sandy.
I had tried unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting ahead of time, so I just decided to go on out there myself and take my chances.
Fortunately, the concierge at our hotel had lived on Long Island, and advised a much better route than I had mapped out that had two trains and two buses, assuming that they were running at all after the terrible storm.
So she sent me off in the direction of Penn Station. It was a short hike from our hotel, taking me past so many familiar New York sites, most notably the famous Macy’s department store at Herald Square, which had throngs of people awaiting entrance to finish up their Christmas shopping.
Penn Station was bustling, and I have to hand it to New Yorkers — they sure can move people from A to B, even if the trains don’t always run on time!
After 50 minutes on the Long Island Railroad, I got off in search of the Island Park Fire Department that I understood was about an eight-block walk.
By then it was raining lightly and there was no one at the station who knew where the fire department was or even which direction to head.
Luckily, there was a temporary FEMA tent set up a few yards from the station so I went in to inquire. It was damp and chilly, and people from all over the country were set up assisting people in need. Given that it was Day 42 after Hurricane Sandy, they were actually not too busy, but some people, especially the elderly, had suffered such devastation, they just could not pick themselves up and figure out a way to get some sense of normalcy back into their lives, so they returned to the emergency headquarters often.
I met a relief worker with the Coast Guard who hailed from Corpus Christi, and she had been in Island Park for a number of weeks already, helping FEMA and addressing environmental issues. Jammie Fisher was looking forward to getting back home to Texas by Christmas, as dormitory living was not the ideal living arrangement, and things were about to wind down.
Jammie offered to give me a lift in an old van up to the fire department where the first thing I saw was a huge American flag draped over the entrance above the three engine bays.
And there in the second bay was Roswell’s old fire truck, looking right at home in its new location!
It appeared to be no worse for wear, having driven up the East Coast to stop at this seaside destination east of Brooklyn.
I met a number of the volunteer firefighters at the Island Park station who greeted me enthusiastically when I said I was from Roswell, Ga. I was surprised how many members were at the station on a Sunday morning in a town of about 7,000 people. Only a few were away at church or out on calls.
We had a great visit and they told me they were thrilled to receive the fire truck. It has already been out on a several calls, and one of the firemen who had already driven it said it was very easy to learn how to use and drive. He said he liked it because it is very fast!
As well as the fire station having suffered damage, firefighters’ personal lives did not escape the challenges of being hit by the hurricane either.
Some of the members of the department or their families lost their homes or had terrible water and wind damage. In just a little over a month, you could see how much recovery had occurred in this energetic and resilient town.
What struck me was the ebullience they shared and a spirit of gratitude and camaraderie, not to mention the sheer joy of the holiday season. The spontaneity of the visit found them all in their usual activity and delighted that a representative of Roswell found them on a cool December day.
One of the pictures shows an Island Park firefighter holding his hand at the level of the high water mark. The electrical system of their fire engine had been destroyed by the corrosive effects of the salt water that overtook them.
As Jammie took me back to the train, she said she knew that any of us could be the recipients of assistance in another disaster where ever it strikes. Being from Corpus Christi, she is well familiar with the ravages of hurricanes and the unpredictability of who may be its next victims.
I thank God for those who respond to the call for help and the bonds of friendship that form in those situations of crisis.
Roswell can be very pleased to be part of the response that helped get Island Park, N.Y. back on its feet, so that they can, in turn, continue to be able to serve others.
The firefighters of Island Park said they can’t wait to visit Roswell, so it is wonderful that we now have a new “sister city” — the emergence of a shining light out of the darkness of destruction.