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Former Fire Chief Releases Sandy Book Ahead of 10th Anniversary

 As we approach the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc across the Rockaway peninsula, the community has come a long way. But for many, the events of that night and the aftermath remain fresh. But those who lived through those moments won’t be here to tell those stories forever. So some choose to put them down in writing. In his first ever book, “Flood, Fire and a Superstorm,” Martin “Marty” Ingram does just that.

Many may know Breezy Point resident Marty Ingram as former Chief of the Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department. He happened to be chief during one of the local volunteer fire department’s most harrowing nights on the job. On the night of October 29, 2012, Ingram was chief of Point Breeze as they faced an unfathomable task of trying to help neighbors while floodwaters filled the community and 135 of their neighbor’s homes went up in flames.

Bits and pieces of the story were told in local and worldwide interviews with those on the scene in the weeks after Sandy. And fellow firefighters even told their version of events, like Sebastian Danese, a Point Breeze firefighter who published, “The Battle for Breezy Point” in 2014. He’s someone Ingram turned to for guidance when he decided it was time to put his own experience into writing about three years ago. But Ingram’s main motivation came from a personal place. “I wrote it because of my grandkids. When they were little, I would tell them bedtime stories of what happened and as they got older, they realized they were hearing firsthand history and said, ‘Pop Pop, you gotta write a book,’ and because of them, I did,” Ingram said.

But “Flood, Fire and a Superstorm” is also a book that Ingram hopes can be useful to others who may go through a life changing storm, and may inspire others to join their local volunteer fire department. “I hope it targets several groups. It’s about the lessons we learned. It could be considered a guidebook for someone in a disaster preparedness course,” he said. But it’s a guidebook written on the personal experiences of that night and the way Ingram used his own life experience to get through it and weeks after, as well as the ways the peninsula’s volunteer firehouses came together to do what they could under unprecedented circumstances.

Nothing could have prepared Ingram and the peninsula’s volunteer firehouses for what would happen that night, but Ingram did reflect on some of his experience in his decision making on October 29, 2012 and in the weeks following.

Ingram is a retired United States Air Force (USAF) air rescue helicopter pilot and emergency planning officer (EPLO). He retired as a Command Pilot and as a Lieutenant Colonel, and he picked up several awards along the way. In 2000, he was selected as the USAF Emergency Planning Officer of the Year. He also had a career as an Air Carrier Safety Specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration. It was a good resume to have going into Superstorm Sandy as chief of Breezy’s fire department.

“Normally a guy does not become a chief of a volunteer fire department at age 60, but I was there and in the book, I explain my background that put me in that position. I had dealt with a lot of floods, fires and storms but who would have ever thought you’d have a disaster with all three at the same time?”

Ingram says it helped that there were some miracles that happened along the way. “There is a spiritual aspect to this book. The more I put my thoughts on paper, the more I realized that story needed to be told,” he said. “The first chapter opens in the Breezy Point Clubhouse, where we were trapped in the building. We had about 40 survivors and 15 firemen and a couple from the Rockaway Point Fire Department, and they had boats and rode in people. I grouped them into a huddle and kept them in form so they wouldn’t panic, and we could focus on what needed to be done. I used to be a swim coach at Nazareth High School and we would have a King huddle and say a prayer in hopes we would win, so that night we had what I called prayer huddles and we said the Our Father. There were miracles that night that shouldn’t have happened,” Ingram said.

A major one being that nobody from Breezy Point died that night. Another he mentioned was a point after a friend, Steve, took over the prayer huddle and instead recited the Hail Mary. At that point, the wind had changed, sending the plume of smoke from Breezy’s burning homes, toward the clubhouse, requiring the occupants to evacuate. They tried the firehouse next door to see if the fire engines would work. But with five feet of water outside, hope was minimal. “We had no other plan. We were trapped. But the engines came to life. That was a miracle from the Hail Mary. This was more than a coincidence,” Ingram shared.

In what might have been a coincidence, Ingram says what helped the peninsula in the aftermath of the storm was good leadership. In addition to the night of the storm, Ingram’s book goes into the story of the recovery and some of the key players that helped make it possible. “When I look back, I see phenomenal leadership in key positions in advance of the storm. The first I think of is Phil Goldfeder, this vibrant, engaged assemblyman who was at the firehouse by 4 in the afternoon after the storm. Then there’s John Cori, Eddy Pastore, Danny Ruscillo, Dolores Orr, among the 52 members of the community board and each one of them spearheaded more meetings after the storm and really helped get the ball rolling. Down in Breezy we had Joe Lynch as chairman of the board and then AJ Smith and people who set up pages online to get communications going,” Ingram said. “A lot of good things came out of a bad situation. I was afraid the Rockaway renaissance was going to stop, and people were going to walk away from Breezy Point, but they didn’t. Everyone on the peninsula should pat themselves on the back for how far we’ve come.”

Ingram says he hit a point of writer’s block during the writing process, which explains the delay, but in the end, it’s fitting that “Flood, Fire and a Superstorm” comes out a few months ahead of the tenth anniversary of the storm that changed everything. Ingram’s book is available to order online on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and may be available in local stores. He also plans on holding book signing events where he’ll have copies on hand.

By Katie McFadden

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