NORMAN — Five New York firefighters have put their own needs on hold to drive across country pulling three loaded 18-feet-by-7-feet Nassau County New York trailers to bring relief and support for people from some of the more remote communities affected by the outbreak of tornados May 19 and 20.
These men are experienced longtime rescuers including Tom and Bret Asher, sons of lifetime New York firefighter Dennis Asher.
“We live in one of the Long Island suburbs (Island Park, N.Y.) that was overlooked during the tough and ongoing recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy, and so we know how it feels to need help in times when disaster strikes and you are one of the smaller communities affected,” Tom Asher said.
John Weber, one of the initial firefighters to organize the goodwill trip, said that it kind of snowballed.
“At first, it was two guys and a truck with relief supplies headed to Oklahoma, but enthusiasm for doing something to help people in need grew into a five-man team,” Weber said.
Paul Wilders, planning specialist for the Office of Emergency Management in Nassau County, was not only part of the team but was responsible for securing the extra trailers, trucks and some additional disaster relief supplies.
The men convoyed across the country stopping only for a two-hour sleep break, an occasional refueling and a stop in Tulsa to drop off toys for Peyton Moore, a girl from Moore displaced by the tornado whose mother, Tiffany, is currently deployed, before arriving in the Norman area late Wednesday.
The convoy’s first stop Thursday was at the Shell Station in Pecan Valley on 192nd Street, where donations were made of items including cots, portable potties, masks and disposable jump suits.
“When you’ve been through difficult times like we went through in Hurricane Sandy, you remember things that helped when your home was destroyed and all power was lost,” Tom Jannazzo said.
Dedicated volunteers at the first stop told the men about the many folks who had lost everything and were living in tents off the main road. In response, the firefighters off loaded barbecue grills, charcoal and other items into the trucks’ flat beds and drove to offer help to those who were stranded without even an opportunity to shower.
After meeting with George Mauldin, Cleveland County Emergency Management director, the men learned of additional needs, so they set off on the next leg of their Good Samaritan tour, Bethel Acres in Pottawatomie County. What they discovered here was a community of individuals whose 95-unit trailer park had been decimated in the May 19 storm. The firefighters provided supplies and went inside a storm shelter that saved 24 of lives.
The men returned to Norman via Moore, where they met up with fellow firefighters at Station 2 to exchange memorabilia and share stories.
The men managed to sandwich their stay Friday between what is hopefully the last outbreak of severe weather for the season.
In addition to supplies, the New York community also sent gift cards, cash donations and letters to be shared with Moore children from Island Park children when school begins.
While in Norman, the firefighters were hosted by Ken and Sacra Nicholas.