Work gets personal for exhausted N.J. firefighter

Frank Rich is an assistant fire chief in Moonachie, N.J., which was flooded terribly during superstorm Sandy.
Frank Rich is an assistant fire chief in Moonachie, N.J., which was flooded terribly during superstorm Sandy.
CBS News

(CBS News) MOONACHIE, N.J. - A town that was left underwater by Hurricane Sandy was the scene of another emergency Wednesday.

Just as CBS News was reporting on the devastating flood in Moonachie, N.J., a house fire broke out.

The news cameras were rolling as smoke started to billow out of a house on a deserted street. After CBS crew members called 911, firefighters showed up in three minutes, carrying equipment they saved from their flooded fire station.

"Right now we have no police desk, no fire department, no ambulance squad," said Assistant Fire Chief Frank Smith. "We're operating on everything we grabbed during the flood and we're operating out of the shelter right now.

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One firefighter was in sweatpants when he entered the building, but they saved it.

"We feel for everybody here, because we are everybody here," Smith said.

This was just one of a half dozen fires since floodwaters overran this town. Smith and these volunteers know every call could end at their own doorstep.

"I got to secure my power. I've got to secure my gas. I'm afraid that this going to happen in my house and I can't get down the block," Smith said.

Wednesday, for the first time, Smith had a chance to also help himself. Eight feet of water was in his house and his belongings are now piled outside.

"I'm trying to stay strong for the kids, but every time I just want to break down," he said.

He was on duty during the storm and rushed home to rescue his family.

"My wife was holding this one up, I was holding the other one," Smith said, holding u his son. "It was crazy, we were running in and out."

He can't focus on himself for long. The calls from his neighbors keep coming.

"This isn't something you can prepare for," Smith said. "Water. Wind. There's no fighting it, you know. Fires will break out, but we're gonna be here to put them down. That's we do."

Ironically, the fire here started because the power came back on. -- the current had mixed with the flood water.

  • Elaine Quijano
    Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.