MOVING: Local Heroes Of The Pandemic

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BRS is a moving company and sometimes we do work in hospitals bringing in new furniture, setting up offices, etc.               

I would like to share with you a story of very uncommon circumstances and highlight an overlooked group of unsung heroes of the pandemic from our neighborhood. Heroes who could have stayed in the safety of their homes and done exactly what is being asked of them, but decided instead to suit up, go straight into the lion’s den, and help fight against the pandemic in every way they can.

The story starts in mid-March when our Senior Project Manager, James Gargano, received a call from a Queens hospital employee. “We’re having a big problem at our hospital. Our nurses and doctors are being so overworked, overwhelmed and exhausted that by the end of their shift they literally can't pick up a coffee pot to make themselves coffee. We need labor to assist our medical staff during their shifts so that they can continue to work under these conditions without collapsing from exhaustion. Oh, and before you say no, please keep in mind that we're desperate and everyone else I called has already said no," he said.

It was a difficult decision, but we ultimately decided to first, make sure the work would be as safe as possible and that if we send our staff into a hospital, they would be give all necessary PPE and proper training from medical professionals on how to avoid the virus. To which the hospital director said, "Absolutely, when can you start?" Sensing the eagerness in his voice, we knew it was important to them, so we knew we owed it to them to at least try to make it work. But then we had to turn around and explain what was being asked of us to our field staff and to see if anyone would even be willing to do so.

Again, we are being asked to send our guys into a hospital, in the epicenter of a pandemic, with no medical experience, while the pandemic is nearing its peak. When it's put into perspective, it's pretty easy to see why so many people said no, and a lot of guys did (and rightfully so), but just enough of them said "yes." We quickly needed to educate ourselves on safety protocols. Thankfully, my sister, Lauren Linares (Beach 138th street) and my girlfriend, Jenna Hoffman (Beach 148th Street), are both veteran ICU nurses and both of their units at this point were converted solely to COVID-19 patients at NYU Langone Hospital and New York Presbyterian Weil Cornell Hospital, respectively. Amidst grueling shifts, they both found the time to give us phenomenal safety instructions that they had received from two of the top- ranked hospitals in the world.

At this point, we decided that we were not going to stop brave men from an opportunity to help so long as they were fully aware of what they were being asked to do and that they were given proper PPE.

Enter Ryan McDade and Steven Guardino.

On April 3, Steven Guardino, a Rockaway native, started supervising our first hospital shift crew at Queens Hospital. Steve immediately began assisting the medical staff with their operations in any and every way possible, but also used his 10+ years of moving experience to suggest specific actions the hospital could take that would significantly improve the efficiency of the operation.

Steve made a huge difference right away and the hospital knew it. The hospital asked to send him and his crew back the next day...and the next day...and the next day...and the day after...and the day after that. Steve had, in such a short time, become so important to the hospital that it wasn't until twenty-one shifts straight that Steve felt like his operation was running well enough that he felt comfortable enough to take a single day off.

And then there’s Ryan McDade (Beach130th Street). Ryan is a lifelong friend and had worked on the trucks for us for a few summers during college. For the last few years, Ryan has been going through an apprentice training program to become an electrician. If I could think of one person who was built to handle this it would probably be... his dad, Steve, who's retired FDNY and built like a work horse. But next on my list would be Ryan McDade.

On April 4, after our shift had ended, I was speaking to Ryan about how we had been assisting hospital staff and now more hospitals are calling, desperate for support, to which Ryan replied, "When can I start?" He started the next day at Harlem Hospital. As I'm writing this, he has not taken off a single day since. I just want to reiterate that Ryan, despite not being a regular, employee has worked backbreaking and mentally draining 12-hour shifts, seven days a week for 25 straight days. When asked if he needed a break, he said "I'll work every day until they don't need me anymore." Ryan was born to help others and he's done, and continues to do, a phenomenal job.

Before we knew it, seven major hospitals were requesting our services 24/7. The amount of cases was growing exponentially in New York and it felt like each day was harder and worse than the last. The level to which people were overwhelmed is something that I couldn't stand to see and only made me more frustrated that we simply did not have enough resources to be able to support the hospitals. 

Enter Kyle Strehle.

Kyle Strehle (Beach 138th Street) is a neighbor, former BRS employee, lifelong friend, and will be in the next class of "New York's Bravest," the FDNY. As fate would have it, I ran into his sister, Caroline, who just happens to also be a frontline hero (there are heroes everywhere in this story) working as a nurse at Memorial Sloane Kettering Hospital, while I was driving to check in on our staff working a shift in Harlem. We began to discuss our company’s dilemma with helping hospitals that are in dire need. To which Caroline said, "Call Kyle." I proceeded to let Kyle know of the dilemma we faced and asked if he’d be interested in helping. To which he responded, "When do you need me to start?" Kyle started his first 12-hour shift the next day.

By some miracle, Kyle found four other brave young men from our Rockaway Beach, and Breezy Point communities who wanted to take on the challenge. Damon Anderson, Joe Brown, Luke Erhard and Christopher Ray were also willing to start THE NEXT DAY. Kyle has probably been the single most important person in getting the support these hospitals needed. And just like many others before him, since his first day, April 8, Kyle has not taken off a single day working 23 straight 12-hour shifts.

Two more heroes on our team are Luke Erhard and Joe Brown. These two answered the call on April 8. Again, these men, on a day’s notice, decided to leave the comfort of their homes to go help fight like hell alongside our frontline medical workers in any and every way they could. They have been complimented for their willingness to help in any situation. Both Luke and Joe started their 12-hour shifts on April 8 and, you guessed it, have not taken a single day off since.

Next up we have Damon Anderson and Brian Ostrander. Two professional young men who also answered the call when they were needed most at one of St Joseph’s Hospitals in Wayne, NJ. These two started April 8 and can you guess what I’m about to say next? Both Damon and Brian have not missed a single 12-hour shift since the day they began.

Next we have Garett Murnan, Christopher Ray and Kiel Anderson. Garett has been working at what was considered ground zero of the pandemic—Elmhurst since April 10. Chris Ray has been working at St. Josephs since April 8. And Kiel, like his brother, Damon, has been absolutely key to us filling out our daily roster by being flexible at Queens, St Josephs, Harlem Hospital, Elmhurst, you name it—Kiel has been there helping since the day he started.

A few very honorable mentions go to Matt Schonfeld, Dylan Carey, Michael Barna, and Drew Donaghue, who worked as many shifts as they could even though some had school and other obligations.

Rockaway Beach is my home and the amount of pride I’ve always had in my community has been immeasurable. But never have I seen more heroism, and never have I had more pride to call this place home than I do now.

From what started as a desperate phone call for help, became a beautiful story of so many people who decided to leave the comfort of their own homes to go out and sacrifice their safety to help others.

 By Matthew Linares

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