PUXICO, Mo. -- When the students at Mingo Job Corps witnessed on the media the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the east coast, they didn't just stand by and wish they could do something to help. Two 10-man crews boarded trucks and vans and headed for New York on Halloween morning, Oct. 31.
"It was a two-day trip," explained one of the Camp Crew members, Tyler Runyon, who lived for a time in Florida and has been witness to the wrath of hurricanes in the past.
"I've seen the damage they can do," he said, "but I've never been in on any effort to help the victims until this."
Seventeen students and three staff members made the 1,144 mile trip, arriving Nov. 1 at a FEMA distribution center in Farmingdale, an incorporated village on Long Island in Nassau County, New York. There they worked for two weeks helping to organize, sort and move food, water, blankets, and other basic need items to sustain the victims of the horrific storm that will likely go down in history as the worst natural disaster to hit the eastern seaboard.
The fire camp crews are part of Mingo's Wildland Fire Team within the U.S. Forest Service. The team is a prestigious ensemble among Job Corps students. Their participation is entirely voluntary in what is considered an extra-curricular organization. Members sign up, pass classroom instruction and then must be successful at a strenuous physical endurance exercise in order to be part of the unit.
"We have to pass a three-mile walk in about 45 minutes carrying a 45-pound supply pack," noted Camp Crew member, Sean Snead.
There are no appointments to the team. Members earn their way aboard through diligence, perseverance and commitment. They never know when their services might be needed. The crews have responded many times over the years to forest fires and other disasters across the country. When Hurricane Sandy hit, they didn't hesitate to hit the road when they were summoned to assist.
The local team worked under the direction of the U.S. Forest Service, whose orders came directly from FEMA. The command center in Farmingdale was FEMA controlled. The crews took their orders from on-site supervisors once they arrived on the scene. Each of the three staff members from Mingo served as a "Squad Boss." It was their task to oversee the work of the crews, but they worked hands-on just as the students did.
When the teams arrived, there was no electricity in Farmingdale. They were housed on their first night in town in a deserted restaurant. The second night was spent at the Republic Airport nearby on cots supplied through FEMA. Eventually power was restored to their area, and they were provided housing at a hotel directly across from the FEMA distribution center.
Their days involved long hours of lifting and transporting supplies from tractor trailers to smaller trucking units that eventually were driven by other work forces to the communities in need.
"Fifteen of us were put on day shift, and the other five worked nights. We worked 15-hour days," explained student Tyrone Jones with a smile, indicating he'd do it again in a minute.
Most of the crew had never experienced a "nor'easter" before their New York journey. When the much-publicized second storm hit Long Island, the Puxico crew knew they were a long way from home.
"We saw a lot of snow," Snead said. "But it wasn't too bad."
There seems to be a newfound pride and an unexpected sense of self-satisfaction in the work of the students who willingly gave of their time and energy for the well-being of the storm's victims.
Squad Boss Toby Watson, a Dexter native, had nothing by praise for the crews he accompanied to New York. "They're a hard-working bunch. They really applied themselves and accomplished everything that was asked of them and more. They put in some long days without complaint, and I'm very proud of their efforts."
"Even though we didn't perform rescues or work directly with the victims, we felt like we did our part," Jones said, "because we were able to help make it possible to get those people the food and water they needed."
"It's something I'll never forget," said Runyon -- "something I can tell my kids about someday."