The Union firefighters who provided aid to storm victims in New York met with hundreds of residents in that area whose lives are now changed.There were six local firefighters who were among 80 in the state who were sent to New York to assist with storm recovery efforts.

Full-time Union firefighters Capt. Matt Tobben, Joe Straatmann and Alex Szpatoski are members of Missouri Task Force 1 (MO-TF1) were deployed from Oct. 29 through Nov. 5 to provide search and rescue assistance for those affected by the super storm Sandy.Current volunteer Union firefighters Assistant Chief R.B. Brown and Dale Straatmann also were sent as part of the team.

Union area resident Kevin Wissmann, with the Saline Valley Fire Protection District and a retired member of the Union Fire Protection District, also is a member of Missouri Task Force 1.

Dale Straatmann, who is the father of Joe Straatmann, is a volunteer senior reserve member within the Union district.Szpatoski told The Missourian that the MO-TF1 members were split into squads who went through neighborhoods in the Long Beach area on Long Island.

“We went door to door checking their well-being,” he said. “We were providing information on where to find food and water — and we provided emergency contact information.”

“We tried to get them whatever they needed,” Szpatoski added.

The squads covered about 31 miles of road and visited about 4,500 homes. 

The residents were without power.

“The floodwater had receded, but there was a lot of sand that was brought in by the storm,” Szpatoski said. “There was debris everywhere and vehicles had been flooded.”The area was primarily residential and was densely populated, he explained.“For about three days we went door to door,” he said. “There were so many people affected by it.”

When MO-TF1 members contacted residents, the victims were appreciative of the help.“People were really gracious that we were out there to try and help out,” Szpatoski said. 

“It was really great to see how excited and thankful they were to get help.”

Despite what the residents had gone through, he added, they still were happy to get the assistance.

“There wasn’t a single person who was negative,” Szpatoski said. “They were just really positive we were out there.”

MO-TF1 is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue Task Force based in Boone County. 

The team is sponsored by the Boone County Fire Protection District and is designated as the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Response Team for the state.Team members assembled in Boone County Oct. 29 and were sent to Herndon, Va.

The team was then sent to New Jersey and then Flushing, N.Y., before ordered to go to Long Island.MO-TF1 and the Ohio Task Force 1 were assigned as “Rapid Response Force Packages.” 

The two rescue teams were given the use of two Chinook and six Blackhawk helicopters. 

The helicopters were available for any search and rescue missions in the area.MO-TF1 assisted in Joplin rescue efforts in 2011, and for assistance during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.Szpatoski said he and other team members are grateful that they could leave work to help the victims.

“We want to thank the Union Fire (district) for letting us go,” he said. “They allowed us to miss work to go.”