More than two dozen members of the NYPD and FDNY were preparing to head to the Caribbean on Wednesday, deployed to help with rescue and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
The 27 members of the Urban Search and Rescue New York Task Force 1 will head to either Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands Thursday morning, Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito said. They will join nine members of their team who never left Puerto Rico following the devastation of Irma.
“We don’t know [when] the ultimate end of the season is going to be,” Esposito said. “As of now, we’ve been going from disaster to disaster . . . We’ve been going from one hurricane to the next.”
The group will first head to Steward International Airport in Newburgh where they will pack a military plane with equipment, including tractor trailers, chainsaws, generators, rescue boats, wetsuits, tents, cots and food.
This is the third time the team has deployed this year: They went down to Texas to help after Harvey and lent their services to victims of Irma as well. The group is part of a FEMA-funded initiative and one of 28 teams around the country, Esposito said. He added that he expects FEMA to request the FDNY send their Incident Management Team to the Virgin Islands as well.
“You can rest assured that when people need help, the members of the FDNY and the members of the NYPD are there to help anybody, wherever they might be,” said James Leonard, the FDNY’s chief of department. “We sent our most highly trained, highly motivated police officers and firefighters down there.”
Members of the task force are trained in several situations, including building collapses, water rescues and hazmat situations. The group also includes two paramedics, a doctor, 10 members of the NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit, and two members of the ESU’s K-9 unit, including their dogs.
Capt. Liam Flaherty, who works for an FDNY rescue company and is heading to the Caribbean as part of the team, said it means a lot to be helping.
“For the New York team this is pretty personal. There’s a huge Puerto Rican community in New York,” he said. “I’m getting texts and messages from friends to check addresses and check family.”
He said the group receives “thousands of hours” of training “and we do it every day, day-to-day here in NYC. So it’s something that we’re prepared to do and more than willing to go down to help the citizens of Puerto Rico."
“This is the third deployment in as many weeks. It’s unprecedented, we’ve never had that,” Flaherty added. “They just called last night and they said let’s go. Just ramp up, throw some stuff in a bag and you’re off.”
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she appreciated the relief efforts. She still has family in Puerto Rico and has been in touch with people there.
“This is obviously very personal for me,” she said. “The level of devastation ... it’s going to ... change the whole look and face of what Puerto Rico was before this storm happened.”