The SCA Veterans Fire Corps is currently clearing Sandy-ravaged streets along the Jersey Shore but getting there, as they say, was half the battle. Last Sunday, after volunteering to join the relief effort, the Arizona-based team assembled for a 6:00am briefing and within hours they were in the air. But soon they ran head-on into the same issues that have dogged area residents since the storm hit.
The corps couldn’t land in Jersey, and instead touched down in Philly. Then, it took two days to get to Fort Dix due to conditions on the ground. And by then, the Nor’easter was bearing down on them and they were ordered to stand down along with other Forest Service saw crews. “We wanted to get to work, but it was too dangerous,” said Project Leader Mike Madalena. “Debris that had been caught in trees was raining down from the wind.”
Mike and his team hunkered down in tents. As the wind howled and the snow fell, they felt guilty that they had heaters while so many local residents were still without power. Corps member Alleyn Friedrich, a native of Louisiana, had never seen so much snow before. His interest was more than passing; his expertise is in meteorology. A former Marine sergeant, Alleyn analyzed weather conditions and provided meteorological data to maximize U.S. artillery strikes in Iraq. At one point, to pass the time and ease their frustration at being stuck on the sidelines, the team made a snowman resembling Smokey Bear. They were, after all, still working for the Forest Service.
By Thursday, they were finally in the field. “We linked up with county road workers,” Mike texted (they have no internet access). “In our rental minivans, we looked for trees that had fallen in the road or those about to fall. We cut them down and moved them to the side for chipping at a later date.”
While he wouldn’t wish Sandy on anyone, Alleyn was grateful to at least begin their mission. “We’re here to help people who have been hurt,” he noted. “Make their lives a little better, a little closer to normal.”