Freeholders Praise First Responders, Volunteers & Residents Who Assisted During Hurricane Sandy

The Somerset County Board of Freeholders is praising the hundreds of first responders, volunteers, residents and employees who came to the aid of their communities during and after Hurricane Sandy and the follow-up nor’easter.

“Emergency management teams, rescue squads, fire companies, law enforcement, county and municipal workers and community organizations started planning their response to this superstorm from the first day it was forecast, almost a week before Hurricane Sandy arrived in New Jersey,” said Freeholder Mark Caliguire, county public health and safety liaison.  “This very proactive approach certainly helped mitigate the impact that the hurricane and the nor’easter had on our county.

”We owe these volunteers and workers a huge debt of gratitude,” he said.  “They worked long hours under incredibly difficult conditions to help and protect the citizens of Somerset County.

”We also salute the countless residents who looked beyond their own discomfort to help their families, friends and neighbors,” he added.  “Many people shared generators and gasoline, or opened their homes to others without power, or kept tabs on elderly neighbors.  These were heart-warming demonstrations of community spirit and compassion.”

Thirty-nine fire departments with 1,560 active members serving Somerset County’s municipalities – all but two of them manned by volunteer firefighters – handled an unprecedented number of storm-related calls.  These included downed trees and wires, wire-related fires, trees on top of vehicles and structure fires caused by contact with wires.  Call volumes were estimated at three to more than 10 times the normal rate during and after the storm.

Local firefighters also were dispatched to help hard-hit Shore areas.  On Nov. 3, tanker pumpers from the Hillsborough, Montgomery, Griggstown, Elizabeth Avenue and Millstone Valley fire departments traveled to Bay Head and Seaside Heights to assist for 24 hours.  Somerset County firefighters also went to Middlesex County two days later to help with storm-related water supply problems.

Like the fire companies, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agencies in the county started planning for Hurricane Sandy several days in advance.  In cooperation with the New Jersey EMS Task Force and Hackensack University Hospital, a Mobile Satellite Emergency Department (MSED) was set up at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Hillsborough.  At the height of the storm on Oct. 29, the doctor and staff delivered a baby at the MSED, the first child born at the mobile facility.

Despite storm impacts to their own homes and families, local EMS volunteers not only responded to the needs of Somerset County residents but also were deployed to assist in the Hazlet/Union Beach area, Brick Township and other South Jersey communities.  Participating in the Shore deployments were squads from Basking Ridge, Green Knoll, Hillsborough, Liberty Corner, Manville, Martinsville, Montgomery and Somerville.

The Somerset County Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) consists of dedicated volunteers ranging from 18 to 77 years of age.  During the two storm events and their aftermath,  they put in over 200 hours of volunteer time, some driving through the high winds and snow to help those in need.

Fifteen MRC volunteers, including one medical doctor and two nurses, were mobilized for the Hurricane Sandy response by the Somerset County Health Department.  Five ultimately were called to respond at the two American Red Cross shelters in Manville and in Bernardsville.   Two others assisted in setting up for the hurricane and distributing information on warming centers, food kitchens, and where to call for assistance.

One MRC volunteer went to the Monmouth County Arthur Brisbane Shelter to help out after their volunteers became exhausted.  The nurses and physician were on call for the Mobile Acute Care Unit that was stationed in Brick.

The county and municipal Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) provided another 30 trained volunteers who were involved before, during and after the storm.  CERT volunteers helped staff the phones at the county Emergency Operations Center, gave out donated water, ice and meals at the distribution center in Hillsborough, and also assisted with recovery efforts in several towns.  In all, CERT volunteers logged more than 320 hours of service during the disaster and will continue to respond as recovery continues.

The American Red Cross set up two shelters, one at the Manville VFW and the other at Bernards High School in Bernardsville.  At their peak, they housed some 150 and 338 residents, respectively, who were displaced due to storm damage or power outages.  The Bernardsville shelter saw a total of 994 individuals who came for warming, showering, meals and cell-phone charging.

The Psychiatric Emergency Screening Services (PESS) staff provided counseling and intake services during and after the storm, assisting approximately 150 individuals at shelters and at the PESS facility at Somerset Medical Center.

The County Animal Response Team (CART) conducted a small-animal response operation in the Manville High School gymnasium, housing a total of six dogs and two cats.  Several days later, the CART trailer was requested at Bernards High School.  CART volunteers also handled requests for assistance from farms and stables that were without water due to power outages.  More than 2,300 gallons of water were delivered to five farms; CART also helped deliver fencing materials to another horse owner whose fence was crushed by a tree.

Somerset County government employees also responded to the storms.  A total of 105 county public works employees were deployed before, during and after the hurricane and nor’easter to close county roads where necessary and to remove debris.  The Office of Emergency Management staffed the Emergency Operations Center around the clock starting Oct. 28, the day of the county’s emergency declaration.  The county 911 Communications Unit handled over 30,000 emergency and non-emergency calls between Oct. 28 and Nov. 7, including more than 9,400 service calls requesting dispatch of fire, rescue and police.  Over 40,000 ready-to-eat meals were distributed by Emergency Management at its Hillsborough location and through deliveries by the county Public Works Department to the municipalities.

The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Office, as well as municipal police departments, provided security at the shelters and at some gas stations during the gas shortage and rationing.

The county Office on Aging & Disability Services delivered 2,679 meals to elderly and disabled clients, despite the week-plus closure of its senior centers due to power outages.  The office had contact with 709 clients during the storm week, helping them obtain needed services.  Partnerships with the American Red Cross and Midland School enabled the Office on Aging staff to serve residents at a local shelter and a senior housing community, respectively.

Other county divisions involved in providing services to elderly and disabled clients during and after the storm included Facilities & Services, Transportation, Health Department, Department of Human Services, Board of Social Services, Roads and Bridges and the Public Information Office.