Humanitarian trip leaves lasting impression

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Volunteer firefighters, knelling from left, Marquis Croston, Ryan Caulfield; standing from left, Adam Daniels, Tim Hanks, Mike McGee, Cal Brennan and Todd Nihill from Beacon Hose Company No.1 in Beacon Falls and Citizens’ Engine Company No. 2 in Seymour are pictured in front of one of the trailers they drove down to Texas to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. –BEACON HOSE

BEACON FALLS — After a six-day trip to deliver donations to aid victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, seven local volunteer firefighters were back home last week with images of the devastation fresh in their minds.

The group — Beacon Hose Company No. 1 firefighters Cal Brennan, Adam Daniels, Mike McGee, Tim Hanks and Ryan Caulfield, and firefighters Todd Nihill and Marquis Croston from Citizens’ Engine Company No. 2 in Seymour — spoke of humbling scenes of destruction. Farm fields were destroyed by flooding, as the rising waters took the livelihoods of farmers with them when they receded. Entire roads were washed out, they said.

For McGee, one scene in particular stuck out.

As the group was driving on Interstate 10 in Texas, McGee said they spotted a truck with a trailer full of someone’s belongings. The person was trying to leave but got caught up in the flood waters and had to abandon the truck, the trailer and the items in the trailer, he said.

“That was pretty sobering,” McGee said.

There were also inspiring scenes.

As soon as the waters started to recede, Daniels said people banded together to help their neighbors start to rebuild. Piles of building materials lined the font yards of homes on some streets, he said.

“They wasted no time at all,” Daniels said.

The trip started off with a simple social media post asking for donations to bring to the greater Houston area. It quickly took on a life of its own.

Over a 32-hour period from Aug. 29 to Aug. 30, Beacon Hose collected about $250,000 worth of donations, enough to fill two 40-foot trailers — which the firefighters drove down — a 53-foot tractor trailer and about half of another 53-foot tractor trailer.

There were still some donations leftover. Beacon Hose dropped them off at Echo Hose Hook & Ladder Company 1 in Shelton, which conducted its own donation drive.

“We could have never have thought of that,” said Brennan, a captain with Beacon Hose, about how much was collected.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said what Beacon Hose accomplished goes directly to the heart of the company’s mission.

“Speaking for the entire town of Beacon Falls, we’re just proud beyond words of what these guys were able to do,” he said.

With the two trailers packed with supplies, the group headed to Galena Park, Texas just after midnight on Aug. 31.

Flood waters surround town houses in Houston, Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. –BEACON HOSE

Along the way, they faced a few obstacles due to the weather and mechanical issues. They also received support on the 47-hour trip down south.

Hanks said people would beep and wave on the highway after seeing their trailers, which proudly proclaimed their mission and words of encouragement from those who donated.

After arriving in Galena Park on Sept. 1, the group dropped off the donations in five areas in greater Houston and helped out where they could.

Croston said people were shocked to see how many supplies the group delivered.

“I’d definitely do it again,” he said.

Brennan added people were surprised they made such a long trip and would ask four or five times when the group told them they were from Connecticut.

While the firefighters have garnered much of the attention for making the trip to Texas, they said they couldn’t have done it without the overwhelming support from people across the state who donated and the volunteers that packed and sorted donations.

“Everybody’s pointing their fingers at us because we were the ones that went down,” Brennan said. “But when we were down there, there were still over 100 people back here still taking donations and packing.”