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Floodlight History

The Floodlight Unit of the Lynbrook Fire Department was formed in 1938.  This unit is made up of firefighters who also belong to the five fire companies and the Medical Company.  Most residents have seen the unit at one time or another at a fire scene or numerous official village functions.  Floodlight (426) is the  truck with the lights and floodlight towers.  At fire scenes, besides providing the needed lights inside the fire scene as well as the use of the towers to light up the whole area, the unit is also the fire department’s Command Post.  The Command Post handles all radio and phone communications at major fire scenes.  The officers working inside the Floodlight truck relay all communications from the fire chiefs to other companies as well as to Nassau County’s Fire Communications, better known as FIRECOM, and the neighboring communities who may also respond when help is needed.  They also keep a log of all the communications that take place and other functions and activities during a major fire.  The Floodlight truck has a self-contained generator that powers the many lights that are carried on the truck.  In 1977 the Floodlight generator was used to save the lives of countless newborns when it was used to power a hospital nursery during the New York City blackout of July 14, 1977. 


On December 9, 2007, the Floodlight Unit of the Lynbrook Fire Department celebrated an important day when their new Floodlight Command vehicle, built by Marion Motor Works, and seen on the opening page of the Floodlight Unit, was christened with the traditional wet-down ceremonies.  This is the unit’s fourth vehicle. But nothing in the 70 year history of the unit was as important as the day in 1977 when the unit responded on a rare request to New York City.   Their mutual aid response to the Blackout of 1977 saved the lives of 41 babies in the pediatric ward of a Brooklyn Hospital.   Here is that story of 30 years ago.


Shortly after 3:00 AM on the morning of the Big Apple blackout, July 14, 1977, the Lynbrook volunteers of the Floodlight Unit were awakened for their unit to respond to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan which was in desperate need of a generator to light up portions of that darkened hospital.  The Floodlight truck, back then, contained a 15 KW generator, along with a portable 5 KW generator unit.  The Floodlight members who responded were Bill Dauscher, Bill Hahl, Bob Shephard, Captain Gordon MacLeman, Lieutenant Jerry McLaughlin, Fred Pearsall, Peter Skeris, Michael Misterly, Artie DeCelle, and Robert Meier.  All of them were also members of Lynbrook’s Tally-Ho Engine Company 3, where the Floodlight Unit was then housed.   The Floodlight responded to the city that morning led by Third Deputy Chief William Quinn, a member of Engine Company 1.  Chief Quinn, in his chief’s car, led the Floodlight truck along the darkened highways to the Queens Midtown tunnel where one lane was opened just for them to get into Manhattan.  The only lights were the headlights and the revolving red lights on both fire vehicles. 


When the firefighters reached Bellevue they learned that another generator had been found but that one was desperately needed at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.  They were told that newborn and premature babies were dying because of the lack of electricity to keep them warm.   They were also told that babies were being wrapped in aluminum foil to help maintain their body temperature.  Somehow the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital’s back up generator had failed.  Lt. McLaughlin would later tell New York Newsday in a story that, “We had calls coming over the air that babies were dying in the hospital.” 


The volunteers raced from Manhattan to Brooklyn to help.  Immediately upon their arrival at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, just after 4 AM, Bob Shephard, a Long Island Lighting Company employee, and Fred Pearsall, a New York Telephone employee, ran a power line through a window of the hospital and hooked up the truck’s generator to the hospital’s electrical system.  The first to receive electricity from the fire truck was the incubators in the neo-natal nursery where 41 babies were near death from the lack of heat.  With the power back on, all the babies would survive.  One doctor would say in a Newsday article that because babies have no fat they lose heat fast which could result in cardiac arrest or serious breathing problems.    


The volunteers also ran additional power lines from the truck and using portable lights were able to light up five floors of the hospital.  One firefighter even crawled through a window with a portable light so that a pharmacist could get the prescribed medication he desperately needed from the darkened pharmacy.  They were also able to power the hospital’s paging system so that doctors could be called.


The volunteer firefighters would later say that while they were working to get electricity into the building that emergency room doctors were outside in the parking lot operating on people under the lights of a small portable generator provided by FDNY.  One firefighter said that rioting was going on in the surrounding neighborhood of the hospital and that gun shots could be heard in the distant darkness.  Lt. McLaughlin would also later tell Newsday that about 60 people had surgery in the hospital parking lot and that 36 of them had been hurt in the rioting.       


Lynbrook’s Floodlight volunteers stayed at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital maintaining the power into the hospital from their fire truck for over 15 hours until they were relieved by the National Guard who brought in a generator and took over.   The president of Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, then officially called, The Jewish Hospital and Medical Center of Brooklyn, would later send a letter thanking the Lynbrook Floodlight volunteers for their help and say, “Because of your help 41 premature and extremely sick newborn infants are alive today.  On behalf of the families of these infants and our hospital, we wish to thank you.”


It is hard to believe that thirty years have passed.  All of those babies in the neo-natal nursery that day lived and now would be grown ups themselves because of the efforts of those Lynbrook volunteers.  Of the original group of firefighters that responded that day only Bill Dauscher and Bill Hahl, are still members of the Floodlight Unit and Tally-Ho Engine 3.  The other members have moved away, and Chief Quinn has passed away.        





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