Helping First Responders

November 21, 2012 • United States

A fireman who has been busy helping his neighbors since Hurricane Sandy hit is thankful for assistance from Samaritan's Purse volunteers

Steve Ruscio was in the firehouse in Island Park, N.Y., as Hurricane Sandy approached land. His wife, Denise, and his three daughters were at home. They had decided they would get dressed, move their cars to higher ground, and then wait for Steve to tell them when they should leave.

But when high tide hit at 8 a.m. and water poured into the streets, the family knew they couldn’t wait any longer. They just got into their car and drove to a friend’s house in another town.

Steve, the fire chief in Island Park, was relieved that they were safe.

“I could better serve with the fire department if I knew my family was safe,” Steve said.

From that moment, the volunteer firemen followed their chief into raging waters, high winds, and fires to help the people of Island Park. In the days following the storm, Steve arranged to have church services at the firehouse to comfort homeowners in the area.

When he had the opportunity, Steve texted Denise to let her know that he was OK but that Island Park was underwater. For more than two days, Steve worked hard while Denise worried from afar. After a few days, they were able to reunite.

“It was very overwhelming,” Denise said. “It was good to be with my husband again as a family because we were apart for a few days, so it was very good to see him. We met in front of our house.”

But the bad news was inside. Water had rushed through the front door, destroying the living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms. The only things salvageable in the garage were Steve’s tools. Worst of all, Steve didn’t have time to work on his home. He had a commitment to the community.

“I was out in the community trying to come back and be with my family,” Steve said. “I was torn between both places. I had a job to do, but I also wanted to be with my family.”

Ignoring Needs for the Sake of Others

As days passed, Steve’s brother-in-law and his daughter’s boyfriend started working on gutting the house. It was a lot of work for just two people, and they both had limited time to put toward the project. Denise was able to find a dorm room for her two older daughters at their college, but the rest of the family stayed separated as they waited for a cousin to loan them an RV.

“Being separated as a family has been hard,” Denise said. “From the evacuation we were separated, and then even when we came home we were still separated because we couldn’t stay in the house.”

More than a week after the storm hit, Steve met Samaritan’s Purse volunteer Paul Brock. Samaritan’s Purse had first made contact with the Island Park firemen at their firehouse, but the men had said there were bigger needs in their community than their own homes. They were so focused on helping others that their homes were being ignored. Finally, they realized that they too could use assistance in getting back on their feet.

“[All the firemen have] had mostly severe damage,” Steve said. “I don’t think there’s anyone that has no damage in their house. And they also were out and about not doing anything with their homes.”

<b>Meeting Physical and Spiritual Needs</b>

Paul was able to talk to Steve in a way that many volunteers could not. He is a retired fireman, and he understood the difficulty Steve was having in balancing his own needs and his family’s needs with the needs in the community. After talking with Paul, Steve agreed that he couldn’t take care of his home without help.

“With him being somebody who’s always helping someone else, it was hard for him to accept help,” Paul said. “His transformation was from not seeking help to being extremely grateful.”

The team of Samaritan’s Purse volunteers gutted out Steve’s home over the course of about a week. They pulled up flooring, cut out drywall, and pulled out insulation. They returned on the last day to tidy the yard and clean out the garage.

“They saw Christ in a way that they’ve never seen Him before,” Paul said. “For the week or so that we’ve been dealing with him, he’s seen the Living God at work.”

Making Time for God and Family

While the volunteers worked, Paul took time to talk with Steve. Denise had asked Paul to talk with Steve about spending more time with his family.

“Firemen have a lot of pride, and they have a desire to never quit,” Paul said. “There comes a point where everybody hits that brick wall. You can only reach out so much, so far, so often. And what I told Steve is he needed to step back. He needed to get out of the crisis and get into his time with the Lord and his time with his family.”

When the volunteers returned on the last day to help with the garage, Steve was at home with his wife. They were working on their home and spending time together.

“Paul’s been really great,” Steve said. “He’s pulled me aside to make sure I leave time for my family. He’s given me the perspective on both sides of it. He’s just been a real big support for me as well as my members. He’s always there. Every time you turn around, Paul is there to help out. You feel so reassured when you talk to him.”

The Reason for the Work

The Ruscios weren’t used to praying with people as much as the volunteers prayed with them. Denise said they usually say their own individual prayers but rarely pray together. However, they gratefully circled up with the volunteers before work each morning and when work ended each evening.

“Our being there, our presence there was another benefit for the whole community,” Paul said. “Steve has a lot of connections, and he’s able to spread the word as to what we’re doing. I think the most important thing is he’ll spread the word as to why we’re doing it.”

A church in Island Park is catering Thanksgiving dinner for the firemen and others in the community. Even though most of the families won’t be able to spend Thanksgiving in their homes, they will give thanks to God for their lives and the recovery that’s already started.

Please pray for our volunteers as they spend time away from their families over the holidays to help these people get back into their homes sooner.