Hurricane Sandy’s Terrifying Firefight

Alan Chin

The Miracle of the storm came just as Hurricane Sandy reached her furious peak and 70mph winds brought the smell of smoke to a half dozen firefighters who chanced to be two blocks away with a Zodiac boat on their rig. The firefighters of Swift Water Team 6—one of 30 such teams fielded by the New York Fire Department during the storm—saw 16 people, including several children, trapped on a roof, screaming as flames shot over their heads. “They were either going to burn to death or drown,” says team commander Lt Bob “Rocco” LaRocco.

The team sped to the building and tied their boat to a utility pole that threatened to topple in the tempest. “If that wire went into the water, we were all dead,” LaRocco says. Firefighter Tommy Lee climbed onto the roof while the other firefighters struggled through chest-high water to the building next door. Now the challenge would be climbing across the narrow alleyway that separated the two buildings. Lifting an apartment door off its hinges, the firefighters—Edward Morrison, Jonathan Hoffman, Chris Rooney, and Michael Wood— created a makeshift bridge and helped people across as the wind whipped blazing debris around them. “The building we were in was catching fire,” says Morrison.

As they left the building some of the rescued panicked because they didn’t know how to swim. The firefighters handed them one by one  down to the boat in a current that was sure to carry away anybody who slipped from their wet grip.

There was no room in the boat for the firefighters, save one to steer, so the rest of Swift Water team held onto the sides of the boat as they returned to high ground.

What LaRocco would talk about afterward was not his team’s heroism, but the divine luck of them being there. He says the rest was just what any firefighters would do. “We have our moments now and then,” says LaRocco.