Local firefighter helps hurricane victims in NYC
by Larry Chowning
As part of the VATF-2 task force team out of Virginia Beach, Lee Ward of Wake was activated and deployed recently to New York City to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Ward has been a fireman for the City of Williamsburg for nearly 10 years, and a volunteer firefighter with the Hartfield Volunteer Fire Department since 1993.
The VATF-2 task force is part of the National Urban Search & Rescue System that was established under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1989. Most states have a task force composed of highly-trained individuals that include firefighters, EMS personnel, dog handlers, engineers and physicians.
When there is a natural disaster such as Sandy, members are often deployed and assist in those areas. Following Sandy, Ward got the call he had been deployed. “It’s a specialty team that I had to interview for,” he said. “Once accepted, it takes about a year to get deployed because of all the training.”
Ward was approved in the Heavy Equipment and Rigging (HER) category because he had past experience in operating a crane.
“I went to New York as a rigger and I was involved in search and rescue,” he said. “We spent most of our time going door-to-door making sure people did not need medical attention or whatever else we could do to help.”
Ward was there for eight days and worked in all five New York City boroughs—Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan. “People were really down because so many lost everything they had,” he said. “If their houses were still standing, in many cases 13-foot high tides had gone inside their homes. So, most everything they had was ruined by water.
“They lost their cars, and if they had a car they couldn’t get gas,” he said. “There was no (electrical) power. It was just a hard place, a hard time and there were a lot of people hurting.”
Ward was in New York on Election Day and had to vote absentee. “We ran into the voting issue when it was time to vote,” he said. “They came to us and asked how many people wanted to vote and all of us raised our hands. They had to call the registrar in that (New York) area and our votes were picked up by a representative, and mine was sent to Middlesex. The others were sent to wherever they were registered to vote.”
This was the second time Ward has been deployed. He was involved in Hurricane Irene with search and rescue efforts in New Jersey for five days.
“It’s a rewarding feeling to know that you are helping people,” said Ward. “But it is hard on you to see so many people hurting.”