As Riverhead residents evacuated their homes and fled to safety in the face of Hurricane Sandy, heroes risked their own lives to save others.
Riverhead Fire Department Chief Tony White said a call came in during the height of the hurricane on Monday regarding an active structure fire, with occupants inside the house, at a location on Overlook Drive in Aquebogue.
Racing to the scene, firefighters were met with flooding that was already 18 inches deep. Too high for pumper trucks, firefighters called for a brush truck.
Firefighters, White said, initially went past the house because there was no number outside. "The number on the house was on the front lawn, under water," he said.
Realizing that they'd gone too far, rescuers turned the truck around and, unable to see the terrain because of the flooding, hit a drop off at the end of the roadway.
"The truck actually got stuck," White said. "Conditions deteriorated very quickly. We ended up going back to get them out with the boat -- not only our own people, but the occupants of two separate houses."
And, as it turned out, White said, "The house was not on fire."
White said residents had been told in advance that a mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas had been ordered. "But a lot of people were refusing to leave," he said.
Putting his men in danger was difficult, White said. "It's very hard to stand in the street and know your guys are stuck and the wind is up to 50 miles per hour and the water is rising six inches every couple of minutes. You try to do the right thing, but you end up thinking, 'Oh, God, what did I do?'"
The brush truck was saved, dug out with the help of Riverhead Town, which used a payloader to help.
White said the truck did see damage, with some lights and wiring that needs to be replaced. "But at least it wasn't destroyed," he said, adding that the truck will be out of commission for at least a month.
The Riverhead Fire Deparment responded to approximately 50 calls during Hurricane Sandy. "We had to bail a few people out of cars," he said, reminding that no one should ever drive through flooding or pools of standing water.
But in the end, despite the damage to the truck, White said, "Luckily, everyone is okay."