, Salem, MA

November 19, 2012

Local firefighter lends a hand in New York

Alan Burke
The Salem News

---- — PEABODY — A Peabody firefighter who reached out to help his hard-pressed New York City counterparts was moved to discover that they had previously reached out to the Leather City.

David Limongiello wanted to do something for New Yorkers hit by Hurricane Sandy. Not content to wait for some official relief effort, he took matters into his own hands. After inspiring friends to make donations, he drove down last weekend, packing supplies in a 20-foot trailer.

He was shocked at what he discovered.

“There was complete destruction. They were still finding bodies washing ashore. In places, there were 2 or 3 feet of sand still in the street.” The homes he passed still bore the marks of seawater that had risen a dozen feet. “Anything below sea level was wiped out. ... Every store, Best Buy, Kmart, it was boarded up with a Dumpster in front of it.”

More sobering was the fact that Limongiello did not even see the worst-hit areas. Multiple fires have devastated blocks of homes.

Making contact with “The Big House,” the only Queens fire station untouched by destruction, he heard of more than a score of his fellow firefighters who had lost their homes and everything in them “while they were busy saving lives.” In one case, an awed Limongiello said, a fireman “swam” two blocks to rescue people from a burning house.

Limongiello told the firefighters of Engines 238, 264 and Ladder 134, “I want you to have this. And they were speechless.”

The gesture seemed especially fitting as members of Ladder 134 had commented, “Peabody? Peabody? Why do I know that name?”

They soon realized that a half-dozen members of the ladder truck had attended the funeral of fallen Peabody firefighter Jim Rice in December.

“Some of them were among the guys who lost everything,” Limongiello said. “Right there and then, I knew these were the right guys. This was the right place to leave it. ... It was definitely a moving experience.”

His initial decision to visit New York was entirely personal and came out of the scenes of destruction he saw in the media following the disaster.

“It was just something I felt I had to do,” he said.

He worked by first notifying all his friends on Facebook, telling them he wanted supplies, clothes, cleaning fluids, mops and brooms for the suffering New Yorkers. “Everyday stuff,” he said. He put the word out “just to see what kind of response I got.”

The effort quickly snowballed. “I had people that I hadn’t seen in years, people I graduated from high school with, they got in touch and donated a bunch of stuff. ... My friends and the friends of my friends really pitched in.”

Pam DeBella of Gaeta’s towing and automotive services jumped in as well. “She put it out there for her friends.” Eventually as many as 40 people pitched in.

The Gaeta office became a drop-off area. By the time Limongiello set out for New York — Matt Gaeta donated gasoline and funds for the trip — he estimates that he was carrying up to 3,000 pounds of supplies, all of it gathered in less than a week. While he was welcomed warmly by his fellow firefighters — he had contacted their association before setting out — he stayed in New York only a few hours.

There is work to be done down there, Limongiello said. He did not want to get in the way. At the same time, he urges those who can to find ways to help.