11/21/2012 11:05:00 AM Former CYFD chief tired but glad he helped Sandy victims as part of Red Cross team
Former Central Yavapai Fire Chief Dave Curtis said Sandy’s devastation is complete in some areas of New York, but like Katrina, flooding did the most damage.
Photo courtesy Dave Curtis
Heidi Dahms-Foster Special to the Tribune
He's exhausted and ready to come home, but former Central Yavapai Fire Chief Dave Curtis is glad for the assistance he has been able to offer in New York to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Curtis, who now lives in the Verde Valley, and Mesa resident Mike Creedon, both Red Cross volunteers, left the week of Nov. 7 to drive an emergency response vehicle to New York.
Normally, said Red Cross spokesman Brian Gomez, the organization draws equipment and volunteers from surrounding areas to help in disasters. But Sandy's devastation was so great that a nationwide call was made.
Curtis and Creedon have been living in a Red Cross staff shelter at New York University Westbury, 33 miles from the projects to which they daily deliver hot meals and lend an ear to people who need to talk to someone about what they've been through. Lights out is at 10 p.m. in the crowded building, and volunteers are up at 4:45 a.m. to load up and hit the streets again.
Curtis said the Red Cross doesn't cook the meals. The organization provides food to Southern Baptist disaster relief kitchens. Workers prepare the hot meals and pack them for delivery.
"The mobile kitchens are operating in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia," Curtis said. "Each one produces 12,000 to 15,000 meals each day. In New York, we come in, in 40 ERVs, load up containers of meals, cookies, fruit and snacks, and either go door-to-door in a specified location or drive around and find people who need to eat."
Finding people in need has not been difficult. Curtis and Creedon have been working in the "projects" in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. They distribute meals to people who live in 20-story tenement buildings, who have had no electricity or heat since Sandy swept through on Oct. 29.
"It's pretty sad at times to see how people's lives have been affected," Curtis said. "These are not rich people, they are people who were struggling before Sandy. You see people come out and they're all bundled up like they were ready to play in the snow, and it is cold here," he said.
Despite spending more than two weeks without power, and many people literally having to gut their flooded homes, most are upbeat, Curtis said.
"It's amazing. People say, 'Well, this is what happened, we'll deal with it and move on with our lives,'" he said.
The volunteers encourage people to see that their neighbors are taken care of, because many elderly people have been in dark, cold tenement apartments for two weeks, and can't make their way up and down the stairs.
Like Hurricane Katrina, Sandy left her mark with ocean water. Curtis said he has talked to many people who point out the place his truck is parked and say, "That night, there was five feet of water there."
In one area where the team worked - Far Rockaway and Breezy Point - the storm surge came up on the bay side first and met the surge from the ocean side in the middle, turning the island into six feet of freezing, seething sea.
"That seems to be the average, five to six feet of water," Curtis said. "People have to rip everything out, carpet, drywall, furniture, anything that got wet."
He described the huge piles of trash that city crews are working every day to remove,
The volunteers spend the day listening to storm victims, and then they talk to each other.
"You talk to hundreds of people every day, and listen to them. It's a good ting we're living with 300 other volunteers, because we get to debrief with them, talk about it, and get it out of our system," Curtis said.
The main complaint among volunteers? Most are sad that they can't do more to help.
Overwhelmingly, he said, people have been appreciative of their efforts.
"They are so happy to have even a warm hot dog and bean meal," he said.
After 10 days, Curtis sounds tired, but he said he's glad he responded. "You feel good helping people," he said.
With a sigh, he expresses what has most plagued volunteers.
"The traffic. It's just bumper-to-bumper, cutthroat traffic. It takes so long to get anywhere. That's what wears us out the most. When you get to do 40 mph it feels like a racetrack."
When he hits I-17 on his way home (he was scheduled to return yesterday, just in time for Thanksgiving), no doubt he'll feel like he's really flying.
And speaking of flying, he said he's really glad the Red cross decided to leave the ERV in New York for another crew to use and then drive home.
"It was originally thought that we'd drive back. When they said we were flying, I said, 'Thank you' - 2,600 miles is a long way to drive in an ERV."