Members of the Montauk Fire Department are on a mission to upgrade the hamlet’s hurricane shelters and raise money for a generator for the Montauk Playhouse Community Center, one of the designated shelters in the easternmost hamlet, along with the Montauk School and the Montauk Downs, but the only one that does not have a generator.
The Montauk Firehouse is also a shelter, but for fire department members and their families only. A former Fire Department chief, Peter Joyce, who is leading the charge, explained that in an emergency situation volunteer firemen would be better able to respond if they knew their families were taken care of.
Mr. Joyce has been visiting various organizations asking for their help. When he appeared before the Montauk School Board in January, he also asked for a list of equipment the school might need in case it was required as a shelter. A committee of firefighters has been formed and is focusing on shoring up the community should another storm the magnitude of Sandy hit and force an evacuation. The committee plans to apply for funding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The fire department hopes to raise enough money, or have a benefactor come forward with a large enough donation, to purchase the generator, which will cost about $300,000.
“Montauk has always been a community that can move mountains to help people. And we have to stay that way and work together to get this thing going,” Mr. Joyce said.
At a gathering on Feb. 12 at the firehouse, Mr. Joyce and Chief Richard Schoen sat around a spread of maps identifying the areas that would be hit hardest in a storm surge similar to the one that wiped out whole neighborhoods during Hurricane Sandy, causing millions of dollars in damage. Mr. Joyce said the hamlet could become an island of its own.
With that in mind, he said, the fire department is creating an evacuation plan as if East Hampton did not exist, since one of the worst trouble spots is the Napeague stretch. If flooded, it would cut Montaukers off from the rest of Long Island.
When Sandy struck, the only evacuation center open was East Hampton High School. East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson wanted to open the Playhouse during Sandy but found the plan unworkable, as there were no Red Cross volunteers available to manage it. Luckily it was not needed, but it could be before long, said Mr. Joyce, who has taken it upon himself to drive through the hamlet and has identified over 600 houses that are in danger zones. The zones are highlighted on the maps, which are available for all to see at the firehouse
There are three places most vulnerable to a sea breach, said Mr. Joyce: Napeague, downtown Montauk, and the Ditch Plain area, especially the oceanfront trailer park known as Montauk Shores Condominiums. “They are definitely in danger,” Mr. Joyce said. The dock area is also a low-lying zone and could suffer great damage from flooding.
A fireman for over 30 years, Mr. Joyce was born and raised in Montauk. He remembers stories he heard from his mother, Peg Joyce, who lived in the old fishing village on Navy Road when it was almost wiped out during the Hurricane of 1938. “I know this can happen,” he said.
A 1997 book by Peg Winski of the Montauk Historical Society described the conditions after that hurricane. Utility poles were downed, houses were destroyed, and boats upended. “Very few buildings were left intact,” she wrote.
Montauk students at East Hampton High School had to stay overnight with classmates, relatives, and teachers, although many were not able to sleep, what with rumors floating about that the Atlantic had swept in to meet Fort Pond Bay and Montauk was no more. “Thankfully, the rumors were only half true,” Ms. Winski wrote.
Hurricane Sandy really put the focus on this project, said Mr. Schoen, who was scheduled to meet with Red Cross officials this week to unlock a trailer that has been sitting on the grounds of the Montauk Playhouse for almost three years. He planned to take the visitors to the other shelters to hear their recommendations as to what might be needed.
Mr. Joyce said that in addition to a working generator, shelters must have blankets, cots, food supplies, and proper heating and ventilation. “You can’t put 500-plus people in a shelter without proper ventilation. We saw that happen with Katrina,” he said.
Both firemen said a storm hitting in summer, when the population swells to thousands, was their biggest fear. Getting the word out early about an upcoming storm is essential, they said, so summer people have time to return to their other houses and locals can move in with relatives up west until it passes. “But the scope doesn’t always lend itself to an easy solution,” said the chief.
In the next few weeks the town will host a Red Cross volunteer training session for people to become certified as safety managers in evacuation centers. A time and date for the one-day course will soon be announced.