Employees return from helping Superstorm Sandy victims
NELSONVILLE — The Wayne National Forest welcomed back 12 employees who were part of a 20-person chainsaw crew sent to the Northeast to help Superstorm Sandy cleanup efforts.
Other crew members were from the Shawnee National Forest and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois.
The group was one of 43 USDA forest Service fire crews from 17 states working in storm-ravaged areas in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and West Virginia.
Steve Alarid, Wayne National Forest timber manager and firefighter, was among the team members dispatched shortly after Sandy hammered the Northeast.
“I was the crew boss. We were initially sent to Forest Park in Queens, NY, to clear roads and trails, so the public could get around. About 90 trees, some probably 150 to 200 years old, were affected by the storm,” said Alarid. “The first few nights we stayed in a local volunteer fire department.”
During its two-week assignment the crew also provided support to local emergency response agencies and assisted at FEMA facilities.
After about three days of cleaning up trees, the crew was reassigned to help organize a receiving and distribution center in Long Beach, NY.
Gordon Farley, a Wayne National Forest minerals and special use administration specialist and firefighter, said the Sandy recovery effort was the largest incident on which he has ever worked.
The western Pennsylvania native, who now lives in Athens County, said, “I really felt the storm victims were grateful for our assistance. From Queens to downtown Manhattan, we interacted with the public on a daily basis. We even got around using the subway system. That mode of transportation was a lot different from what I’m accustomed to on a wildfire, but it was helpful getting around.”
“While working at the Long Beach receiving and distribution center, we really helped in organizing items as they were being received by donors. We helped separate items like canned goods, clothing, water, baby items, and cleaning supplies. It was amazing how much clothing was coming into the facility. The volunteers on site did a great job distributing the supplies,” said Farley.
In a spirit of cooperation and concern, several forest service employees and other interagency wildland firefighting specialists scrambled to fill orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency needed for the massive cleanup job.
The forest service’s experience in wildland fire management makes it an ideal partner to help coordinate operations during a natural disaster.
The forest service developed the Incident Command System that governs the actions of everyone involved in disaster recovery after years of experience in wildland fire suppression operations.
The forest service recently reported that nine incident management teams were operating mobilization centers, staging areas, and supporting emergency operations centers to provide relief.
Under emergency support functions detailed in the National Response Framework, the forest service assumes responsibility for providing firefighting assets and personnel who coordinate disaster relief operations, oversee supply distributions, and provide strategic organizational experts at regional and national coordination centers.
“Our incident management teams bring skills in organization, planning, and logistics to meet the needs of communities tragically affected by Hurricane Sandy,” said forest service chief Tom Tidwell.
At the height of the hurricane response effort, approximately 1,200 interagency firefighters organized by the forest service were sent to help communities in need.