Three young men who thought it would be fun to jump into a flood-swollen stream in New City during Hurricane Irene had to be rescued by a team of more than 50 volunteer firefighters and emergency workers after they became trapped in the racing waters.
New City Fire Chief Artie Kunz Jr. said the rescue operation took nearly 90 minutes and risked the lives of volunteers from New City and special rescue teams that came to New City from other parts of the county to assist in the complicated operation.
Assistant Chief Ken Flynn said the three young men, ranging in ages from 17 to 22, clung to trees until they could be rescued. Kunz said that if the trio had been carried further down stream they very likely would have been killed as the swollen stream went under a nearby bridge.
Kunz called the rescue effort a textbook operation in which no one was injured, however, he said he and other firefighters felt somewhat frustrated because they had to spend so much time and devote so many resources because of the decision of the three young men to go on a thrill ride.
“We had people who had been going non-stop for 18 hours,” Kunz said. “We were frustrated because this isn’t what we were expecting we’d have to do.”
Throughout the storm, New City firefighters had rescued residents of a flooded home on Zukor Road and rescued a man whose car had become trapped in flood waters along Main Street as he was trying to get to work. When the three young men were rescued from the stream, Flynn said firefighters spotted two adults and two children trying to get into the same stream with a kayak — despite the massive rescue effort that took place right in front of them.
A Break In The Action
The rescue effort started just after 1:30 p.m. At that time, a non-stop rush of emergency calls had begun to ease as Hurricane Irene’s winds and torrential rains had died down. Kunz said he was giving firefighters a break so they could rest and have lunch — and then the call came in for a rescue near 4 Pearl Lane in New City.
Flynn said he and fellow firefighter Rich Willows, and his firefighter son, Rich Willows Jr., were the first to arrive and quickly saw that several people had been attempted to rescue the three young men from a swollen tributary of the Hackensack River. Firefighters said the stream is normally about 25 feet wide, but today had reached perhaps a half-mile wide and covered much of a heavily wooded area.
Ropes and a makeshift ladder were found, and firefighters could see one of the youths holding on to a tree, another clinging to a tree and an inflatable tube while the third youth was holding on to a tree and had an inflatable pool raft.
Rich Willows said he, his son and Flynn used a rope to reach the closest of the young men, who was about 50 feet away. But he said boats and additional rescue gear were necessary to reach the other two young men.
New City firefighters brought one of their rescue boats to the stream, with volunteers from Stony Point’s Wayne Hose Co. No. 1 bringing in their rescue boat. Kunz said he also called in assistance from the Rockland Regional Technical Rescue Team, which includes volunteers specially-trained in water rescues.
Flynn said New City firefighters used their boat to reach the second youth, and Stony Point firefighters used their boat to reach the third youth, who was the furthest away. Flynn said the tactical team assisted throughout the operation, assisting with the set up safety lines needed to prevent firefighters from being carried off if they fell into the water.
Kunz said the operation also included New City’s Tower 9 ladder truck. The truck’s bucket was extended over the stream and a ladder was lowered to create a last-ditch spot where the youths could grab on to in case they were swept by the waters toward a bridge.
Kunz said New City had four of its fire trucks at the rescue, with Rockland Paramedics and two New City Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Corps rigs on hand. Additionally, crews from the Town of Clarkstown had heavy equipment on hand to assist with the rescue.
“Everyone really pulled together,” Kunz said, explaining that rescuers were stretched out over about one-eighth of a mile in what essentially had become a fast-moving swamp.
Kunz said paramedics checked the young men after they were pulled from the water to make sure they were not injured or suffering from hypothermia.