As I sat in the recliner last night watching the NBC Nightly News special coverage about Hurricane Sandy last night, I have to admit…tears came to my eyes. Seeing the fires at Breezy Point, the mass destruction on the coast line, and hearing the tales of heroism by the first hand accounts of all those who were there. Little did I know that when this happened one year ago, this destruction would also change my life forever even being 10 hours away.
In mid-October of last year, a few brothers and I from work attended the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb hosted by the Charlotte Firefighters in North Carolina. We spent the weekend in Charlotte, and participated in a few events. Leading up to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K that was held before the climb, I had been in contact with the event organizer, Tom Stanton. We had exchanged multiple emails back and forth due to the time constraints on participating in the 5k and the Stair Climb that immediately followed it.
On that cold October morning, I lined up on the starting line for the run. There were 70 or 80 other runners in the event, and I was up near the front of the pack. The darkness was starting to rise as the loud “bang” of the start gun fired to begin the race.
We were off…
The “grand marshal” for the run were several firefighters from FDNY Engine 217. We could see them start the race in full turnout gear that had worn reflective stripes and smoke stained material. The race was escorted throughout the race route with numerous PD units, a Charlotte Fire Ladder truck, and a vehicle towing a piece of steel from the world trade center bearing the name of the Steven Coakley Foundation.
Following the run, the sun had risen and the temperatures had started to rise. I had to go up on the stage to meet Tom Stanton to receive an award, and he also tossed me a challenge coin knowing that I collected them. It was at the beginning of the Stair Climb that I once again saw the members in attendance from FDNY. They stood at the bottom of the Duke Energy Building cheering us on and thanking us for REMEMBERING each of their brothers who died years ago. After the climb was over, we were sure to catch them on the street and introduce ourselves. I gave each of them one of our KFD challenge coins. We continued to make small talk for a few minutes and took a few photos before they made off to meet with other firefighters after the climb.
At the time, I had no idea that I would ever see these guys and gals again. I also had no idea the effect that Hurricane Sandy would have on them back home. It was a few weeks later after the damage had occurred that I received a message from Tom. He told me that Kara Coakley-Walker from the Steven Coakley Foundation had been in contact with the brothers from E-217. Kara’s brother, Steven Coakley, was one of the 343 firefighters that was killed on 9/11. Coakley worked out of the 217 firehouse, and she had kept a close relationship with the firefighters there. She was the reason they attended the run/climb in Charlotte, NC. Tom went on to say that the destruction had wiped out many homes, and they were going to be organizing work crews to go up and help the citizens and firefighters who had homes damaged during the storm.
Everything fell into place as I jumbled around days off at work, gathered donations from local businesses, and rounded up tools/gear to work with while there. The day finally arrived where I drove to the I-81/I-77 interchange and hoped in a vehicle full of strangers headed to New York. During the ride up the road, I got to know the guys I was riding with and heard about all the work we had to do. I had also gotten word that we would be staying in Steven Coakley’s house.
When we arrived, it was late in the evening. We were welcomed to a nice warm house that had beds, air mattresses, and couches for everyone. We spent the evening meeting the brothers and sisters we would be working with, seeing the crew from 217 again, and meeting the individuals who had taken care of all of the logistics for our work sites, meals, and schedules for the next few days.
The days were long, and the nights were short. We were well taken care of and were welcomed with open arms. The friendships that were made during the trip are ones that will always exist. We worked to clear the houses of debris, and to help as many of the individuals that were in need that we could. We even made a trip to the E-217 firehouse, received a ride into the city, and we MADE A DIFFERENCE.
I had just started righting my blog prior to making the first trip. I documented most of our experiences through various posts outlining all the work that we had completed. It was in December that I was able to go for a second trip. The second trip was just as emotional as the first. We met new faces, worked in different houses, but once again made a difference. I could believe that months after the storm, there were so many houses that had still be UNTOUCHED. I urge you to check out the links below about the work that we completed while working in New York.
Hurricane Sandy Relief: Trip 1
This year, I was able to meet-up with many of my friends at the Charlotte Climb this past September. Many of us were able to climb together to remember the fallen. I feel confident in saying that I will see them all very soon!