The lights are back on in the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department’s house on Davenport Court, as is the heat, and the garage again houses two large fire trucks.
But things are not back to normal at the department, which was devastated by the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29. Half a million dollars in equipment was destroyed, as were all of its vehicles, and many of the vehicles of its volunteers.
But the Hamilton Beach vollies have gotten help from friends near and far. The department received donated trucks from volunteer fire departments from as far away as Mississippi and Pennsylvania.
Now, Duane Reade has announced it will donate $25,000 to the department.
Duane Reade management, including Greg Calvano, director of store operations for the pharmacy chain, handed the check to the volunteer fire department’s captain, Jonah Cohen, at a press conference in Hamilton Beach last Thursday. Cohen confirmed the money will be used to purchase a new ambulance for the department, after its previous ambulance was damaged in Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters.
The West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department never shut down during or after the storm. Even while 5 to 6 feet of water flooded the firehouse the night of the hurricane, those on duty still went out into the waters and rescued residents trapped in their homes, many by boat at the height of the storm.
“This fire department saved lives that night,” state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said at the check presentation.
Even after the storm, the firehouse became a “town square” of sorts for residents who spent weeks without power and heat. Hot meals and donated supplies were distributed there and a number of people from around the borough and elsewhere came to help.
Storm or no storm, the fire department is key to the community and the surrounding areas. Hamilton Beach is close to the Belt Parkway and the A train subway, and steps from JFK Airport — a fact reaffirmed when Thursday’s press conference was disrupted by a landing Emirates Airlines Airbus A380 which passed about 100 feet over the neighborhood. The department stands ready to respond to vehicular, transit and aviation accidents if needed.
“It doesn’t take a storm to realize the importance of the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department,” Addabbo said, noting that during the hurricane, the department provided the only emergency crews who were able to respond in Hamilton Beach. NYPD and FDNY could not travel south of 156th Avenue because of the storm surge until the waters receded enough for them to travel the streets with the National Guard.
“This community is not safe without this fire department,” Marshall added.