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Sandy Brought Out 'Extreme Bravery' in Kinnelon Employees, Chief Says

Mayor honors borough employees and volunteers for help after Sandy.

The storm may have passed, but the praise for those who assisted during and after it continues. Especially in Kinnelon. 

Nearly an hour of Thursday's Kinnelon Council meeting was occupied by a celebration and show of gratitude for borough employees and volunteers who devoted themselves to Kinnelon and the borough's residents following Superstorm Sandy. The efforts of those recognized "speaks to the town's character," according to Mayor Robert Collins.

Police Officers With Chainsaws

The first group to be recognized was the Kinnelon Police Department. Collins mentioned that he had asked Kinnelon Police Chief John Finkle to prepare a list of names of officers who should be noted and that instead, he offered up the entire department. Finkle was the first to be thanked by Collins.

"I really want to thank John for going above and beyond what I would have expected," he said.

But Finkle deflected the praise to his officers.

"I don't think the residents of Kinnelon realize how special this group of guys is," he said.

Finkle said the officers not only completed tasks that are typical of their jobs, but began helping roads crews cut down trees and remove debris with chainsaws. Some joked that the police officers returned to the station covered in sawdust.

"I had to order them in, they wanted to stay out there," Finkle said.

Officers also helped residents with their medical needs, checked on handicapped residents who may have been in need of shelter and answered as many calls for service as they could. 

"[They showed] extreme bravery and dedication," Finkle said.

Collins said the police officers were in "the frontline of defense" and made all residents' lives easier following the storm.

"You really made us proud in so many different ways," he said.

Plowing Trees

Police were not the only ones using creative thinking to weather the storm. Department of Public Works (DPW) crews began using plow trucks to clear roadways of debris, according to Superintendent John Whitehead.

Collins said that last year, Tropical Storm Irene brought down 34 telephone poles in Kinnelon. Sandy brought down 153. He described the long shifts DPW crews worked in clearing the roads.

Whitehead said that when the storm hit, the employees sprung into action.

"At about 9 p.m., all hell broke loose," he said.

Two of the department's employees became trapped in their vehicle for about two hours during the storm as Whitehead said all routes back to the DPW building were blocked off by trees. 

Storm-Inspired Teamwork

Borough volunteers also came together to ensure safety of residents, including Kinnelon Volunteer Fire Co. members who responded as much as they were able to calls. 

Fire Chief Kieth Pavlak said "three firehouses worth of guys" came together after the storm to assist where needed.

Both the fire company and police department worked hand-in-hand with the Kinnelon Office of Emergency Management, led by Coordinator Harry Hicks and Deputy Coordinator Adam Barish. The duo, and several others, helped manage a Facebook page to disseminate information to the community. Collins said the borough was actually praised by Morris County as having the most efficient social media operation in the county for the Facebook postings during and after the storm.

"I think the fact that we have a very positive and proactive program there is part and parcel to [Hicks'] efforts," Collins said.

Three resident volunteers were also honored at the meeting, including Dolores and Richard Unger who spent their 54th wedding anniversary volunteering at the shelter set up for residents, and Ian Clement who performed a variety of duties to assist residents and borough employees. Clement also helped transport donated items collected in Kinnelon to storm-ravaged areas in Point Pleasant and Union Beach.

One group of employees from outside Kinnelon were also honored at the meeting. Collins said Butler Power & Light crews did a great job at restoring power quickly to the borough's residents while customers of other utility companies seemed to wait much longer. He described the effort put forth by the local utility as "herculean."

"It was a little overwhelming, but we did the best we could," Jeff Ricker, who attended the meeting on behalf of Butler Electric, said.

Collins said the magnitude of Sandy was incredible and that the borough plans to work on better communicating in future events. He also took a moment to thank his own family, and the family members of all the volunteers, for their patience and understanding.

"You don't realize when you're a volunteer that your house may be one of the cold ones as well," he said. "It was a stressful situation for all our families."

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