Fire Chief Ross Morgan shared that at the company's November meeting, the members of Shepherdstown's Fire Department decided they wanted to in some way assist those to the north who had been damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The department had recently retired an engine and sought to make it available to a company who may be in need.
Not sure how to go about finding the right fit, Morgan said that member Andy Tarbell sent a letter to the National Firefighters Endowment Association seeking assistance. That association was inundated with requests from those seeking assistance and from those willing to give, so much so that they were overwhelmed. The representatives indicated that if the Shepherdstown department could find someone on their own, it would be helfpul.
At that point, Jim Schmitt, a 36-year member of the local company, whose family owns a home on Long Beach Island, contacted the Beach Haven Department.
Photos courtesy of Jessica Schmitt
Schmitt explained that the family home, which belongs to his in-laws, Tome and Lenore Sloat, had burned in Oct. 2006. Schmitt commended the Beach Haven department on their efforts to contain the fire which could have easily spread to neighboring homes.
The emotional loss of their home was a difficult one to bear, Schmitt said. The family chose to rebuild and their efforts were completed in 2007. Their home received minimal damage during the recent storm; however, other the majority of Long Beach Island was not so fortunate.
The island, Schmitt explained, is 18 miles long and has one bridge from the mainland for access. On the island are four small fire companies run by volunteers.
"After the fire at our home, I made up my mind if there was ever anything I could do for those volunteers, I would," Schmitt said.
His chance came when he discovered that the Beach Haven station had one truck damaged by Sandy and two other trucks out for previously needed repairs. The loan of the Shepherdstown truck has allowed that station to continue to operate.
Schmitt, along with his daughter, Jessica, who is currently Shepherdstown's Honorary Fire Chief, drove the 1989 Pierce engine to New Jersey Jan. 13. Following them to bring the two home was friend Paul Nagle, who also had ties to the island, Schmitt said.
Upon arriving at the station, Schmitt shared that he spent time familiarizing the members of the Beach Haven department with the engine before touring the island to see the damage.
"We all saw things on the news, but it doesn't come close to the feeling you get walking in the debris that is a result of the storm," Schmitt said. He explained that the island was closed off for almost a month before the Army Corps of Engineers allowed people to return to their homes and businesses. When they returned, the damage was immense.
"It is hard to imagine them waking up to see what they saw," Schmitt said. "Firemen, by nature, are proud. They are here to help, aid and assist others, not to need assistance themselves," he said.
The firemen on Long Beach Island had to deal with the destruction of other people's property, but also had to deal with their own. The Beach Haven station faced damage of flood waters four to five feet high within their station. Along with that, many faced that damage and more to their homes.
The loan of the engine was appreciated by the Beach Haven station. Chief Matt Letts was quoted in a story posted in The SandPiper.net saying, "We are extremely grateful for this donation."
Schmitt shared that his trip to the north was a very humbling experience. "I have never seen destruction like this," he shared. "We have a lot to be thankful for. I learned that we should take nothing for granted," he said.
The members of the local company here in Shepherdstown take pride in being able to help out another company during their time of need.
"We're proud to help people," Schmitt said, "but to help another fire company, that's a step above."