From Fires to Storms: The Vollies of Gerritsen Beach

Posted by on Oct 11, 2013 in Visuals | 0 comments

Dave Ostrowski (l) and Aaron Hale (r) strap a neighborhood volunteer onto a stretcher during their drill, which recreated an explosion that left many people with critical leg and back injuries. “Drilling keeps you an expert in your field,” Garson said. “We have always had a standard of high quality and we have to keep that up.”Firefighters Dave Ostrowski (l) and Aaron Hale (r) strap a neighborhood volunteer onto a stretcher during a drill conducted by the Gerritsen Beach Fire Department, which recreated an explosion that left many people with critical leg and back injuries. “Drilling keeps you an expert in your field,” Department Chief Doreen Garson said. “We have always had a standard of high quality and we have to keep that up.”

Gerritsen Beach, a seaside community in Southern Brooklyn, is home to the only remaining volunteer fire department in the borough. The Gerrittsen Beach Fire Department, known to their neighbors as the Vollies, has served their community since 1922. To this day, the Vollies act as first-responders within their community, only calling on professional firefighters from FDNY when the call is too difficult for just a few people to handle. For years, members of the Gerritsen Beach community dedicated their free time to volunteer for the force and pay their dues. Recently, they began accepting outsiders into their ranks, allowing people from beyond Gerritsen Beach to become part of the force.

Perhaps the biggest test of the Vollies’ dedication came last year when Hurricane Sandy made its impact. Before the storm,  Gerritsen Beach was not a flood evacuation zone, so many people stayed at home as the storm approached. When the storm’s five-foot high storm surge ripped through the community, the Vollies had to rescue people from their homes throughout the night. The fire department itself flooded, causing $100,000 in damages. For months after the storm, they have helped their community rebuild – acting as a shelter for the homeless and providing meals to their community.  As the first anniversary of Sandy approaches, the department continues to pick up the pieces, as it tries to move on from the blow it was dealt by Hurricane Sandy.

Lieutenant Michael Castro, a six-year veteran of the department, looks over the  ambulance as the team prepares for a scheduled drill that morning. “Drills create a mental imprint that allows for things to become second nature instead of having to think about it,” Castro says.
Lieutenant Michael Castro, a six-year veteran of the department, looks over the ambulance as the team prepares for a scheduled drill that morning. “Drills create a mental imprint that allows for things to become second nature instead of having to think about it,” Castro says.

Castro gears up for the day’s drill, putting on the heavy uniform a firefighter has to wear to make the drill more accurately reflect what it’s like to respond to a call. When there is a fire or medical emergency, the Vollies have only minutes to leave their homes and gear up at the station before responding.Castro gears up for the day’s drill, putting on the heavy uniform a firefighter has to wear to make the drill more accurately reflect what it’s like to respond to a call. When there is a fire or medical emergency, the Vollies have only minutes to leave their homes and gear up at the station before responding.

Lieutenant Dan Cavanagh (l), 28, and Castro (r) prepares the firetruck with the necessary inventory to complete the day’s drill. The truck must carry a wide range of equipment because of the different calls the department gets every day. “You remember most calls because you learn something different from all of them,” Cavanagh said. “Trips and falls from people that are your parent’s age or your grandparent’s age are the ones you remember best.”

IMG_9030The department recently got new uniforms as part of the renovations they’ve been doing since Hurricane Sandy. Doreen Garson’s helmet rests on her shelf at the fire station. Garson has been a Vollie for decades – joining after the department helper her when one of her children was need emergency medical attention. 

The Gerrittsen Beach Fired Department, located on Seba Avenue, is newly renovated since the inside was gutted after being flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Most times, the firehouse looks just like this – empty and closed – but when a call comes in, the volunteers rush in from their nearby homes to get to work.The Gerrittsen Beach Fire Department, located on Seba Avenue, is newly renovated after being completely flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Most times, the firehouse looks just like this – empty and closed – but when a call comes in, the volunteers rush in from their nearby homes to get to work.

Garson goes through a box of call sheets she just found that had been missing since Hurricane Sandy. The box is still filled with water from the storms flooding, and the papers have begun to mold. “We’re still picking up the pieces from the storm,” she says.
Garson goes through a box of call sheets she just found that had been missing since Hurricane Sandy. The box is still filled with water from the storms flooding, and the papers have begun to mold. “We’re still picking up the pieces from the storm,” she says.
Garson says that she will have to photocopy the waterlogged call sheets once they dry to keep them in the department’s records. Every time the department responds to a call, they must fill one out and keep it on file in case any legal proceedings occur. The smell of the mold quickly permeated the air as Garson separated the paper, which had become stuck together after sitting in water for months.
Garson will have to photocopy the waterlogged call sheets once they dry to keep them in the department’s records. Every time the department responds to a call, they must fill one out and keep it on file in case any legal proceedings occur. The smell of the mold quickly permeated the air as Garson separated the paper, which had become stuck together after sitting in water for months.
Daniel Cavanagh (l) and Patrick Klein (r) work to apply a brace to a neighborhood volunteer pretending to be a victim during a practice drill on Sunday, Oct. 6. The drill tested the Vollies’ skills at immobilizing injuries to the leg and back. Cavanagh and Klein struggled with the news brace, which they had never worked with before. 

Treena Sherman, 35, takes a break during the morning-long drill after helping one of the “victims” into the ambulance. Sherman says she is the only woman that is currently an active firefighter at the department. “I can be this female and wear heels and stuff at home,” Sherman says. “But at the firehouse, I wear boots just like any man.”Treena Sherman, 35, takes a break during the morning-long drill after helping one of the “victims” into the ambulance. Sherman says she is the only woman that is currently an active firefighter at the department. “I can be this female and wear heels and stuff at home,” Sherman says. “But at the firehouse, I wear boots just like any man.”

Aaron Hale plays a game of pool with a few other Vollies after fixing the pool table, which had been damaged since Sandy. Because of the renovation, the Vollies were able to make the firehouse a more communal space. Today, they take advantage of it as a place for them to hang out as friends between shifts working to protect their community.