By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — Goshen emergency responders returned home last weekend after being deployed to the East Coast to help residents affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Aiding East Coasters were Goshen Fire Department Chief Dan Sink, Chief Paramedic Kit Castetter and Elkhart County Red Cross Executive Director Frank Connolly.
“It’s a fun aspect of my job that’s different from my daily job that I get to participate in,” Chief Sink said. “It was a great experience and ... tiresome.”
Connolly said he slept most of one day and part of another day after his return home.
His job was to manage all the American Red Cross shelters in the state of New York for Hurricane Sandy, including New York City, he said.
“I was incredibly proud of the team I worked with. It didn’t start easy and the team didn’t back down,” Connolly said. “They made sure everyone was safe and secure. It was tough to find shelter for staff and the gas shortage provided challenges.”
Chief Sink helped develop an All Hazards Incident Management Team in Baltimore, Md., he said after leaving Oct. 28, and “then the hurricane turned into a northerly track and hit New York and New Jersey.” They demobilized on the morning of Oct. 31, camped overnight on an Army base in Maryland and traveled to New York on Nov. 1.
“The objectives were to provide infrastructure support for the city of Long Beach, NY, and we provided governmental support and support for local ongoing response,” Chief Sink said. “We provided technical logistic support, facilitated pumps for water and sewers, and generators for city hall, fire stations, police stations, places that really needed power.”
He described his daily schedule which began at 5 a.m. and in the command post by 7 a.m. for briefing for the day followed by a tactics meeting at 11 a.m. and he attended all the meetings, he said. The operations ended at 7 p.m. when he returned to the Jericho Volunteer Fire Department, where his sleeping quarters were at.
“I ate dinner between 7 and 8 p.m., went to bed, got up and did it all over again the next day,” Chief Sink said. “The destruction is difficult to describe even with pictures I brought back. The destruction is incredible. Building will take literally months and even years.”
Connolly said after Hurricane Sandy hit landfall and “was considered a substantial event,” he helped set up people to manage shelters and others to manage the day-to-day operations in Long Island City, New York City, Westchester County and upstate New York.
He said it was complicated and challenging to find shelter locations within certain areas due to legalities.
“Our objective is to place shelters in affected areas as close as possible and still be safe,” Connolly said. “At the peak of the storm, there were 15,000 to 20,000 people in shelters. That’s a pretty large number. We could have sheltered more if we needed. We were busy and even with the size and complexity, things went very well.”
Some of the more difficult aspects after the storm included getting power for shelter needs, finding shelter for the American Red Cross staff, and getting people back in their homes, he added.
“There were a lot of challenges with the gas shortage and power outage, which affected communication, as well,” Connolly said. “There are about 2,500 people still in shelters, so the need is reducing.”