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AFSCME Members Rebuild after Devastating Storms

After the Storm
After the Storm | From left to right are Local 3718 (New York Council 66) members Kenneth Fortier, Evan Verrastro, Rick Brzozowy and Roland Smith. (Photo by Ken Fortier)

Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee left their mark on residents of the East Coast this summer and AFSCME workers performed tasks vital to getting people back on their feet. A few of those AFSCME members took a minute from the work they’re doing restoring their communities to share their stories from the field.

New Jersey

A Family Tradition of Aiding Others

When Irene made landfall on Aug. 28, electrician Tim Hanlon, Local 2272 (Council 52) came to work to help block off roads flooded by rising waters and restore electricity to the city’s traffic lights. Faced with the decision to report to work or stay home and care for his terminally ill father, Edward Hanlon, a 23-year AFSCME retiree. Brother Tim headed to work, with his father’s blessing. ‘Take care of what you need to,’ said his father, who had tackled his share of emergencies during his career as a heavy equipment operator. The elder Hanlon added that he wanted to hear reports from what was happening out on the job.

New York

Aid Across the Empire State

Ken Fortier, president of Local 3718 (Council 66), described the destruction left by Lee in the Village of Johnson City, where AFSCME workers cleared the streets of debris, from downed limbs to children’s toys and even a wedding album. Fortier received a letter from a resident thanking him and his workers for doing “a good job with such a limited crew.” Speaking of the workers, Fortier added that he sees “hurt and almost tears in their eyes, but they come to work every day.” Their local has launched a toy drive to help area children get back a bit of what they lost to Irene.

Ed Russo, Local 829 of Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000, said that “every one of our members stepped up to the plate. We all came together and it really worked out well.” His team worked long hours without regard for losses at their own homes, cleaning up and cataloging the damage in government buildings in Fonda, N.Y.

Cornell Heyward of Local 1320 (DC 37) was stationed in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the Department of Environmental Protection, operating a vacuum truck. He volunteered for the assignment to travel upstate to Margaretville, N.Y., and provided needed assistance. “The water came so fast, it didn’t make the turn with the creek — it went straight through town,” said Heyward. “The entire town was destroyed.”

Vermont

Losing Loved Ones on the Job

The dedication of public workers was on powerful display at Irene’s last U.S. stop: Vermont. In the storm’s immediate aftermath, 11-year AFSCME member Tommy Garofano-Barone, a heavy equipment operator with Local 1201 (Council 93), suffered the drowning death of his father, former-AFSCME member and 30-year City of Rutland veteran Michael Garofano. His brother, also named Michael, accompanied his father to the reservoir and remains missing. Tommy’s father and brother headed out to close off an inlet that fed into the reservoir. The road they were walking on washed out, killing his father and carrying away his brother. “Once we recovered Mike’s body, I joined three other brothers to carry him to an awaiting ambulance,” said Tom Franzoni, president of Local 1201 (Council 93). “This family exemplifies the commitment public employees bring to the job. Even through the tragedy Tommy showed up to work. He, like his father, did what needed to be done.”

New York’s Heyward hopes his experience will instill in his sons, Chase, 6, and Kai, 11, a profound work ethic he and other AFSCME workers up and down the coast demonstrated during Hurricane Irene. “It’s easy to keep working even if you are tired, because there are others out there helping,” Heyward said. “Everybody is helping out. You cannot stand by and do nothing.”

AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund

Hurricane Irene ravaged the East Coast in August, killing at least 45 people and injuring scores more, and caused more than $10 billion in property damage. Many AFSCME members helped our communities recover from Hurricane Irene, working overtime to move people to safety, clear road hazards and restore water, sewer and other essential services. Now, many of our sisters and brothers need our help. Pres. Gerald McEntee and Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders ask that you lend a hand, by contributing to AFSCME’s Fallen Heroes Fund. The fund was established in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to provide assistance to AFSCME members and their families who suffered as result of that national tragedy. You can contribute to the fund online at AFSCME.org/fund. Or, you may send a check made payable to “AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund,” to AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund, c/o AFSCME, 1625 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036-5687. Contributions to the AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund are tax-deductible charitable contributions.

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