Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis honored a host of organizations, officials and individuals Thursday night at a benefit dinner for storm victims that also served as an event to honor those who helped Brick Township in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
The township's volunteer firefighters, EMTs, police department, VFW post and the organizers of the Visitation Relief Center received keys to the city, as well as the Brick Dragons football team, school district and emergency management teams.
"The Brick Township fire service responded to over 1,100 fire calls in the two weeks after Sandy," Acropolis said, honoring firefighters.
The mayor also said plans put into place long before Sandy - including drawing up plans on where to station first responders and drills, including one which simulated a hurricane striking Brick - were indicative of the professionalism of the township's first responders.
"The police department handled over 10,000 phone calls and over 2,400 calls of service from Sunday prior to the storm through Tuesday morning," Acropolis said. "We were the first to reach the barrier island of any police department, and that was early Wednesday morning. The first thing they did was a house-to-house search."
"This is one of the best and largest teams I've ever had the privilege to work with," said Brick Police Chief Nils R. Bergquist. "It was truly an honor to witness and watch what they did."
Members of National Guard units from multiple branches of the armed services were also honored for their service keeping watch over the barrier island as well as some mainland sections of Brick hardest hit by Sandy.
"Because of these gentlemen and what they brought - their leadership, their skills and their attitude and discipline - when you saw what they brought to the table, it just went down the line from there," said Acropolis.
Businesses in town honored included the Brickhouse Bar and Grille, Quaker Steak and Lube, Costco, IHOP, and the Windward Tavern, all of which donated food to first responders working without electricity or ways to cook for themselves.
Walmart of Brick was also honored for donating over 4,000 toys to township children in partnership with the New York Giants.
The mayor also thanked Aol and Patch.com, which donated a tractor trailer load of supplies brought up from Virginia in the days following the storm. The supplies, including clothes and household items, were sent to a staging area at Brick Township High School.
Commander Ed Sofield of Brick VFW Post #8867 represented his organization's members for extraordinary efforts in the wake of Sandy. Members turned over the post, on Adamston Road, to the township for use as a command center for the barrier island storm response. It was also a place where families met to reunite with relatives and to visit their homes, and was a food distribution point. The post also hosted dinner for first responders on Thanksgiving.
"If you ever walked in there, they had a tremendous area of supplies for families," said Acropolis.
"I'm lost for words," said Sofield. "All I can say is, 'you couldn't say no to this.' We were in service to our country, and now on a smaller scale we can do it for our community."
"If it ever happens again, and I hope to God it never does, but we'll be there to do it again," he said.
The mayor also recognized the workers of the Department of Public Works and the Parks department for not only rescuing residents, but working to clear sand and open up Route 35 in order to allow emergency responders to access the barrier island and make additional rescues of year-round residents who stayed behind.
Township crews, Acropolis said, were able to clear the state highway before the state even arrived.
Individual township employees including Engineer Elissa Commins and Business Administrator Scott Pezarras were also honored for their work.
"It was heartwarming to see neighbor helping neighbor," said Acropolis, who himself used his inflatable boat to rescue people trapped in his Cherry Quay neighborhood. "Everybody helped each other. From our first responders, we saw thoughtfulness and dedication to purpose, and that goes beyond uniform or even call to service."