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Fayette EMS crew sees first-hand the effects of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 4:57 p.m.
Submitted photo This photo shows some of the ambulance crews from the Pennsylvania Strike Force entering Jersey City after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in the beginning of November. Dec. 4. 2012

It's been over a month since Hurricane Sandy came on shore in New Jersey and residents there are still cleaning up.

Members of the Pennsylvania Strike Team were deployed to the disaster area on Oct. 30.

It wasn't an easy assignment.

The Pennsylvania Strike Team is comprised of ambulance services in Pennsylvania. Fayette EMS participated in the strike team assignments.

This time, Steve Rugg, regional supervisor 4 with Fayette EMS, was called to duty along with a crew of five.

“We only took 35 ambulances with us when we were first there,” Rugg said. But before it was all over, the strike team had approximately 100 ambulances and 50 support vehicles from Pennsylvania. Twenty more ambulances from Maryland and two from Vermont were called in as well.

Rugg left for New Jersey with mechanic, Mike Woodley, who was the only mechanic for 150 emergency vehicles; two paramedics, Loretta Timms and Joe Podlogar, and two EMTs, Adam Russell and Austin Shawley.

While in New Jersey, Rugg served as the deputy operations chief with the command staff. His duties included designating where the ambulances with the strike team would respond — and he found no lack of calls.

“We ran a lot of 911 calls,” Rugg said. From a Tuesday to a Friday in Hoboken, they responded to 480 ambulance calls with only 10 ambulances under them.

Rugg said the majority of the calls were for checking on the welfare of residents, medical emergencies and moving people who may be handicapped to shelters.

“We ran 24 hours a day and around the clock in 12-hour shifts,” Rugg said.

He said some of the struggles the strike team faced included getting around hurricane destruction like flood water, driving around the fuel lines to fill up prior to the National Guard's arrival to supply them fuel and going on calls that should take 15 minutes, but lasting 45 minutes because of places like Jersey City and Hoboken being without power.

“There was no electricity, no elevator and we had to get people up and down 20 flights of stairs,” Rugg said. “It was very trying for our crew.”

From their arrival on Oct. 30 to their departure on Nov. 11, Rugg said he was not only impressed with how the strike team responded to the massive volume of calls, but also the response from the people affected by the hurricane and going through what was very well the worst times of their lives.

“We couldn't believe to see the good coming out of the people in such a destructive area,” Rugg said. “For people whose lives were changed that much, with that much desolation, they were very appreciative.”

Rugg recalls strike team crews eating military MRE (meals ready to eat) packages for the first few days they were in action, but then people in the community starting bringing food in through the Red Cross. The local police departments would escort ambulances onto calls whenever they could.

Many residents were surprised to see an ambulance from out of state responding to New Jersey.

One of those residents was Seth Lubin of Jersey City who was walking along the street on the evening of Nov. 7 after a snowstorm came through the area.

“I was heading to a restaurant to get some dinner,” Lubin said, adding that because of the slippery conditions on the ground, he walked with his attention focused on the ground below his feet. “I looked up and a guy across the street was laying there.”

Lubin said he and a crew surrounded the fallen man while someone dialed 911. He said the man was not unconscious, but at the same time was not responding.

He said the ambulance arrived. It was a crew from Fayette County.

“After I explained to them what the man's condition was, I looked at the license plate and asked the crew where Fayette County was, and they explained it to me,” Lubin said.

Not only did Lubin see help from Western Pennsylvania, he said a grassroots volunteer effort in Jersey City was established to help people and it included utility crews from Illinois and Colorado.

“I just wanted people to know their efforts did not go unrecognized, and we are grateful,” Lubin said. “It's really a beautiful thing to see people respond from other parts of the country responded the way they did.”

Lubin was so touched by what he saw with the ambulance service, he wrote a letter to the editor to express his feelings.

“I wish to convey my gratitude to the Fayette EMS and the community who supports them,” he wrote. “What does matter is Americans know that when a neighbor is in need they must lend a helping hand because that is what good neighbors do for each other. It is a noble expression of the American experience that will unite us all.”

Rugg said the letter from Lubin was totally unexpected. But the crew appreciated the support received from the people of New Jersey.

“Everybody was tired, but happy to go to help and entire state,” Rugg said. “But they would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or

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