FDNY chief recalls decision to swap vehicles to make Ida floodwater rescues

Chief Andrew Morgan swapped his Battalion 22 vehicle for a high-axle truck typically used to battle brush fires


Kyle Lawson
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — As remnants of Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc across New York City, a fire chief on Staten Island was struck by an idea.

Eyeing floodwaters in the West Brighton area that appeared dangerously high for the Battalion 22 pickup truck (aka battalion rig), Chief Andrew Morgan swapped it for a high-axle truck typically used to battle brush fires.

Long Island Expressway in New York City shut down due to flash flooding from Post-Tropical Storm Ida's landfall.
Long Island Expressway in New York City shut down due to flash flooding from Post-Tropical Storm Ida's landfall. (Photo/Tommy Gao)

"It's usually kept in quarters until brush fire season," Morgan said.

The unorthodox move paid off for several people who had become trapped in floodwaters that night, including West Brighton business owner Kay Pyun, who was driving home along Forest Avenue at about 11 p.m. when her car began to float.

Pyun stopped by Ladder 79 and Engine 156 in West Brighton on Thursday to thank the firefighters involved in her rescue.

"I tried calling 911 but I couldn't get through," recalled Pyun. "I was crying . . . I didn't know what to do."

That night, after collecting her thoughts, she dialed Edward Arale, a friend from the neighborhood and liaison officer for the Port Richmond Emergency Response Team.

"She said 'Eddie my car is filling up with water,'" Arale recalled.

As he arrived at her location he spotted Morgan and firefighter Anthony Abruzese, battalion aide, rumbling past in the high-axle truck. The men linked arms, forming a human chain, to pull Pyun from her vehicle and hoist her into the truck.

"The water was chest-deep inside her car, so we knew we needed to move quickly," Morgan said.

After transporting Pyun to a nearby LA Fitness that was being used as an area of refuge, FDNY crews returned to the same street where other motorists were still trapped. Morgan said the truck was used in six rescues that night.

Meanwhile, members of nearby Engine 156 were carrying out their own rescue missions.

"The streets were flooding very quickly," recalled Lt. Michael Scollan. "If we have the time and manpower we have water rescue suits we can wear, but that night we went out in our bunker gear. [aka firefighter uniforms]."

Meteorologists recorded eight inches of rainfall that night at Newark Liberty International Airport.

"I've lived on this Island for 62 years and I've never seen that section of Forest Avenue flooded," Arale said. "I've seen water behind the Forest Avenue shopping plaza sure, but nothing like that."

The rescues on Staten Island were among hundreds performed by firefighters citywide. No deaths were recorded in the borough, though others weren't so lucky. Government officials reported 17 confirmed deaths in New York; four in Westchester County and the rest in New York City.

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(c)2021 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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