Recovering from Sandy a Challenge for Battered East Dover Fire Company
Officials uncertain how long recovery at Fischer Boulevard headquarters will take
No one at the East Dover Fire Company had seen flood water rise that fast, or with such force.
"The water was so swift, it picked up that refrigerator and flipped it over," said Sharon Goresh, a company trustee, as she motioned to the 400-pound stainless steel box in the firehouse's kitchen.
Like most everything else in the company's headquarters, it was totaled when Hurricane Sandy battered the Jersey Shore last month.
"None of the equipment is usable again," said Asst. Chief Rick Tutela. "The building, in our eyes, is totalled. It wrecked every office in the building."
The entirety of the Fischer Boulevard fire company headquarters, including its $60,000 commercial-grade kitchen, needs to be gutted and rebuilt. Restoring the building will cost a "substantial" amount of money.
"I would not bat an eye at $200,000 by the time we're done," Tutela said. "And that's conservative."
Sandy's wrath was felt hard at the building, located about 50 feet from the Barnegat Bay. On the night Sandy struck, nothing could stop the flood waters, which came in from the rear of the building and crossed over Fischer.
"It came so fast and so furious that it was pushing the sandbags out of the way," Goresh said. "A sandbag was nothing."
In 20 minutes time, the water was up to Goresh's knees. About five cars in the parking lot, all belonging to members out responding to storm-related calls, were swept away and totaled. Despite the danger, volunteers stayed and continued to dispatch calls.
"When we had 3 feet of water in here, we were still running fire calls," Tutela said. That night, in addition to a house fire on Grover Road, the department responded to calls for trees into houses, downed power lines and drivers trapped in their cars by flood waters.
"It was the whole gamut of the fire service," Tutela said. "Just people calling for assistance."
All of the company's apparatus were out responding to emergencies that night. But then something unprecedented happened.
"That eerie call came across that they needed rescuing at the firehouse. No one knew why," Tutela said.
Goresh and another volunteer tried to save as much as they could from the flood waters, especially documentation that FEMA may want for reimbursement purposes. The apparatus were relocated to higher ground at Toms River High School East.
Now, a month later, offices have moved to trailers outside the building donated by Hecht. The trucks have returned to the bays at the company's headquarters, but the rest of the building — including the banquet hall — is unusable and may be that way for some time.
"This banquet hall is the major source of income for us. It keeps this volunteer fire company in business," Tutela said.
The members — not the township — own the building and are responsible for its insurance and maintenance costs. Each month, hall rentals and other fundraising activities bring in about $6,000.
But no more. The canceled breakfast with Santa scheduled for December likely would have raised over $2,000. Other private events were canceled, the deposits returned.
The company was sent a $30,000 advance from their insurer, but that money is long gone and didn't go too far. It paid for a restoration company to rip up carpets, a wood floor and 4 feet of drywall, all preliminary measures to prevent mold from forming.
Much more work needs to be done, but the fire company can't get started without money. Insurance will not pay more yet, grant applications are being worked out and it's unclear what FEMA will cover.
Rather than wait, members are appealing to the public, including the 27,000 residents in its service jurisdiction, to help with donations.
"We're asking our response area for help," Tutela said.
Donations can be made through a PayPal account established by the company or by sending a check to the company's headquarters at 629 Fischer Blvd, Toms River, NJ 08753.
"We're doing whatever we can to fundraise to rebuild our firehouse," Tutela said.
Despite the challenges of running a fire company without a fully-functional headquarters, the members — some of whom, like Tutela, have suffered losses at home because of Sandy — remain committed to protecting their community.
"We're still fighting fires," he said. "And we have to rebuild the firehouse."