Montauker Spearheads Hurricane-Aid Effort

Hurricane Sandy ‘is still happening,’ says Fire Department’s Dennis O’Reilly
Dennis O'Reilly

    Countless residents here have been instrumental in supporting those affected by Hurricane Sandy in Breezy Point, a long, narrow, cooperative community at the far western end of the Rockaways. Days after the storm, with assistance from East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Police Chief Edward Ecker, East Enders provided resources such as fuel, food, and clothing to help maintain people in Breezy Point for almost a week.
    There are still tremendous needs, however, according to Dennis O’Reilly of the Montauk Fire Department, who seeks to continue the effort of helping the area, where he was born and raised, in the wake of an event that did not just happen, but “is still happening.”
    “It is pretty dire,” said Mr. O’Reilly, a retired New York City firefighter. There’s “a lot of hardship,” he said — “kids out of their nest,” parents who lost their vehicles or who are paying mortgages on houses they cannot occupy. Whether there is running water depends on those who live on the block, he said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency “has not brought in trailers,” he said yesterday morning. There are still people living in tents and in firehouses. The state’s Office of Emergency Management and FEMA are simply not covering the needs, he said.
    Mr. O’Reilly is seeking assistance from all who wish to help, coordinating with a church community center in Breezy Point. He said that people across the East End had been phenomenal, citing as an example a Christmas party that Montaukers provided to Roxbury, a community in Breezy Point, with the help of many, including Karen Theiss, the Montauk School’s nurse. Montauk children wrote cards and wrapped presents for Breezy Point children. Accompanying the gifts was a check, the money having been raised in part by boy scouts.
    “More than half are without power and gas,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “Fire chiefs are overwhelmed and fried. Their own homes are destroyed.” People are lucky to get a hot water heater delivered and installed, he said. “FEMA’s jet lag is terrible,” he added. “Most people have not received their checks.” He said there were lessons the South Fork could learn from the disaster.
    “A state of shock,” was the reaction of First Assistant Chief Richard Osterberg Jr. of the East Hampton Fire Department upon seeing the “pure destruction” when taken to the site where hundreds of houses had burned to the ground. “It was such a reality check to actually look and see the destruction 100 miles away,” he said, “compared to what we had here.” He described houses knocked off their foundations, cars stuck in the sand, garbage all over the place.
    Taught to help a worthy cause when he could, he said he took the opportunity on Nov. 11, when he went to Breezy Point with Scott Fithian, East Hampton Village’s superintendent of public works, with two truckloads of donations for the Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department. They took items that their departments were not using, such as a generator, a trash pump, and ready-to-eat meals.
    Mr. Osterberg surveyed the needs and organized a donation drive resulting in the collection a roof saw, shovels, pry bars, hand tools, and brooms. On Thanksgiving Day he took an additional truckload of supplies that included chain saws, wrecking bars, and a camping grill for cooking at the firehouse. “We’ll never forget you,” he said he was told.
    “They are so appreciative,” he said. He gave them an East Hampton Fire Department sticker, which went right on the wall. “It was so moving,” he said. “Something so small can make a difference.”
    “I would love to go back in there,” Mr. Osterberg said, but that’s made difficult by his full-time work as a mechanic for a fuel oil company. In the winter he has only one day off, and then there are his fire chief responsibilities.
    The Point Breeze, Breezy Point, and Roxbury Fire Departments on the peninsula are still in need of manpower and appliances, as are many homeowners. Mr. O’Reilly is planning a group effort for the end of January that he called a “tradesmen parade,” at which workers will stay in a heated tent for a weekend.
    Needed are architects, engineers, carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. Equipment and supplies requested to replace what fire departments lost include land and sea rescue vehicles, kitchen appliances, computers, fax machines, printers, furniture, tools, generators, gas and carbon monoxide detectors, water rescue gear, VHF radios, and cold-weather work clothing.
    Specific needs are essential when donating goods. For example, one Point Breeze Fire Department member said that one day the department needed bottled water, and the next day it had more than it knew what to do with. Over the holidays, people dropped off turkeys, but the department members had no use for them — no place to store them, no way to cook them.
    Mr. O’Reilly’s efforts now involve a Facebook page, called From Montauk to Breezy, where donations can be collected and distributed to those in need in Breezy Point. Even a $10 Target gift card is appreciated, he said, as are heaters, blankets, cleaning supplies, batteries, baby items, toiletries, and nonperishable food. Clothes are not needed. Mr. O’Reilly is accepting donations of money, gift cards, and requested items at the Montauk Firehouse.