When Hurricane Irene slammed into Baristaville on Sunday, water began pouring into basements. Some people had French drains and sump pumps and electricity that remained on the whole time. Some had the sump pumps but no electricity. I had neither. (In my defense, I’ve never installed a drainage system because my basement has only flooded once before in 22 years.)
Plus I had an electrical wire down in the back yard, a husband covering the storm in New York City and responsibility for reporting the local hurricane story on Baristanet. My whole street was out of power, and I was more frantic about not getting the internet than anything else — but by the middle of the afternoon, with generators cranking all around me, and my neighbors deep in the mucky business of pumping their basements out, it dawned on me that I should be doing something to remediate the six inches of standing water. “Call the police,” one neighbor said. “Ask them to send the fire department to pump you out.” So I did.
Earlier in the day, the Montclair Fire Department had said that it would help homeowners pump out basements with four feet of standing water. “We had to do that,” says MFD Deputy Chief Tom Diveny, who has been overseeing the pumping operation. “We were getting so overwhelmed.” The four-foot figure was also chosen because that’s the level at which water would start to enter fuse boxes and create an electrical hazard.
Needless to say, we didn’t meet the criterion. Still I called.
The fire department came by, looked at our basement, our downed wire — and initially turned us down. The big pumps wouldn’t work in standing water less than a foot high. Nevertheless, when I saw a small fire vehicle down the street, and pleaded my case to Battalion Chief Steve Miscia, he promised he’d send a crew by with a smaller pump. There was only one catch. We needed power. As soon as I got to borrow a generator, Miscia promised, he’d come back.
I was on an informal neighborhood list to borrow a generator after two other neighbors used it. By after four hours, it was still in use. By this time, my husband was back from the city, and we decided to link together five heavy-duty extension cords to pull some power from a neighbor (realtor Roberta Baldwin!) who lives about four houses down and across the street.
True to his word, Battalion Chief Miscia came back. He waited patiently while we found the final 100 feet of extension cords. Then, while his men pumped us out, he stood talking to us, telling us about the homeowner whom he’d helped earlier in the day who’d recently moved from the city — and had no idea what to do with a generator he’d just bought.
Miscia talked softball with my husband. Turns out my husband has pitched to him in the Glen Ridge over-30 league, and tomorrow Miscia will be playing in the World’s Police and Fire Games in Cantiague Park in Hicksville N.Y. Miscia talked with me about 9/11 and the famous fires the MFD has fought in Glen Ridge. Even my daughter had a connection with him; his goddaughter had taught her gym in high school.
Standing outside in the cool post-Irene breeze, shooting the breeze as my basement water came pouring out of a fire hose, getting to know a fireman — it was all good. Even if we didn’t have power. Even if we still don’t.
Since then, the MFD has pumped hundreds of basements out and now, says Diveny “we’re pretty much going to anybody.”
They’re pumping still.