Maria Fabbraro rode out Hurricane Sandy in her Hamilton Beach home with her mother, Faye. Having survived Irene a little more than a year earlier, they had not expected any more than some minor nuisance flooding and wind damage.
What happened instead would traumatize them both and force a daring rescue by the neighborhood’s volunteer fire department, whose members themselves lost most of their equipment.
When Sandy’s storm surge submerged much of Hamilton Beach the night of Oct. 29, Maria, who requires the aid of a walker to get around, and her elderly mother were trapped in their home as the rising water inched closer to them.
A block away, the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department was also dealing with rising water, which threatened to destroy their ambulances and fire trucks.
Nevertheless, even while trying to stay above water, when the alarm rang, the volunteer firefighters inside the flooded building at Davenport Court and 104th Street sprang into action.
Armed with little more than a boat, the firefighters on the scene headed to the Fabbraros’ apartment and pulled the two women from their home as the storm surge rose.
“It was scary,” Maria Fabbraro said, adding that she was looking for a new home away from the flood zone. “I never want to go through that again.”
But after getting the women to safer ground, the firefighters returned to their headquarters to find Hurricane Sandy had not been kind to them.
The department lost all of its equipment as well as six vehicles — two pumpers, two ambulances, one 4x4 brush fire unit, a command vehicle — and lost thousands of dollars worth of tools, including carbon monoxide detectors, a thermal imaging camera, portable radios, mobile radios, vehicle extrication tools and forcible entry tools.
The vollies received donated trucks from fire departments in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Mississippi to help put them back in service and they are up and running — their firehouse has heat and electricity back — and the parking lot is now a relief center where hot food is being served.
“These guys are real heroes,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway), who presented a certificate of appreciation to the firefighters involved in the rescue last Thursday. “What the volunteer firefighters were able to do here, and in Broad Channel and Rockaway, was amazing.”
Mitchell Udowitch, the department’s ex-captain, said that immediately after the hurricane, the firehouse became a community meeting spot and a relief center where residents came during the 2-3 week span when Hamilton Beach had no electric or heat.
The West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department is one of five that suffered damage in Southern Queens. The Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department was also hit hard by Sandy, as were three vollies in the Rockaways, including Pointe Breeze, which responded to the Breezy Point fire the night of the hurricane.