Emergency personnel and first responders had to put aside storm-related problems of their own to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
On Wednesday, some local residents held an appreciation luncheon in Somers Point to thank those workers for sticking around when the storm hit.
“We go home, we have hot meals. It’s not fair,” esident and luncheon organizer Joel Fogel said, adding that some of the emergency personnel weren’t so lucky.
“They slept in a home without power, and then got up the next day and went back out,” Fogel said.
“I appreciate the restaurant doing this,” said Joe Halpin, from the Sea Isle Ambulance Corps, at the Somers Point Diner Wednesday. “If they were nice enough to do this, I wanted to make sure to come out and say thanks for doing it.”
Halpin, along with his daughter Johnnette, were out during the storm and helped rescue a man, who relied on an oxygen tank for air and was stuck in his home post-storm.
They went through about 18 inches of water to reach the man, who had been breathing without his tank for about three days, Halpin said.
“After we get everyone out, there are those that still stay. But we put ourselves and our families in danger,” Halpin said.
Co-worker Donna Schirmuhly, who was not at the luncheon, was one such example. While at the Ambulance Corps base Oct. 30, the day after the storm hit, Schirmuhly’s house caught fire, she said in a phone interview.
Her husband, Jim, got the call that morning, and learned that a freak accident caused the fire. All he knows, he said, is that a wire started the fire. He was not at home because he had packed up and left for the storm, he said. “I wasn’t going to stick around,” he said.
The damage to the building includes total destruction of the basement and first floor, which included a guest bedroom and what Jim Schirmuhly called his “man cave.” All his sports collectibles, including early 1900s fishing reels, were gone, and various boxes of collected items.
“The plastic boxes all melted and the stuff inside them melted too, so it was all one big glob,” he said. After the storm, the couple went back to start cleaning out from the fire, and the 3 feet of water that damaged their home.
“I just have to close my eyes and throw it all out,” Jim Schirmuhly said.
The couple is staying at Donna’s sister’s home in the city until their insurance claim is processed, Donna Schirmuhly said.
In the meantime, Jim Schirmuhly said he is already looking for a new home.
It is the families such as the Schirmuhlys, and the calls that Fogel said he received from people he knew and were stranded on the island, that prompted the idea for the luncheon.
With an approximate budget of $700, Fogel joined forces with Extreme Chef, Season 2 winner, Terry French, and sought a venue to thank the emergency personnel for their hard work. French, whom Fogel knows, does volunteer work with his non-profit organization Chefs for Life, Fogel said, and was happy to help out with the project.
The celebrity chef was supposed to be present and greet the guests, but a family emergency called him back to his hometown in Indiana.
Fogel shared his experience during the storm, when residents on the barrier island who had not left were calling and crying into the phone, asking him to come rescue them. Fogel said he started to get a taste of what the emergency responders were going through in the days following the storm.
“There were some things I just don’t want to have to ever see again,” said William McFarland, of the Farmington Volunteer Fire Company in Egg Harbor Township.
“I saw people who were tired, who couldn’t smile,” Fogel said. “After a week I started to get depressed. And I started to think, ‘If I’m depressed, how do the first responders feel?’“
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