Updated, Nov. 21, 2013, video embedded.
By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – The people who stepped in to save Norwalk’s harbor as Hurricane Sandy blew in are playing down their effort, according to the chairman of the Harbor Management Commission.
“Lt. Michael Pirri and Firefighter Michael Vinci are not taking enough credit,” Tony D’Andrea said Wednesday evening, about an effort that kept three-story tall Mississippi river-style paddle boat from smashing into piers and boats on the Norwalk River during gale-force winds on Oct. 29. “When the shellfishermen and I went ballistic about the pilings breaking and the boat getting ready to launch across the harbor, they listened immediately. They stopped what they were doing in the middle of a hurricane, the largest event to hit Norwalk in 100 years, and listened and determined there was a problem and exploded into immediate action. Oh my God, the system works.”
Vinci, Pirri and other members of the Norwalk fire and police departments were being presented with plaques in honor of their efforts at the State of the Harbor Meeting in the Common Council chambers at City Hall.
“They did the right thing, the right people in the right place at the right time,” D’Andrea said. “You hear so much lately about this is wrong that’s wrong and the infighting in this room. I am sitting in this room to tell you the system worked. They did the right thing at the right time at the right place. I am proud of them.”
D’Andrea, Gary Wetmore (a dock builder) and Richard Bloom ( a marine contractor) called Norwalk emergency oersonnel at about 4 p.m. Oct. 29 to say the “Island Belle,” a paddleboat docked at Veterans Park, was going to break free, according to a police report written by Sgt. Pete Lapak, one of the men honored.
The pilings were at a 45 degree angle and that the dock was moving in the wind, the report says. A meeting was convened at the nearby Station 3, and the situation was discussed by the mayor, the police department, fire chiefs and the boat’s owner, Ken Hart. They decided to try to re-position the boat to reduce its profile to the wind. Unfortunately, a line snapped during the operation.
Dep. Fire Chief Ed Prescott told the story this way at Wednesday’s meeting: “We were discussing ways of securing the boat from breaking free and destroying the harbor, basically. Things didn’t well as well as planned, it was a dangerous situation as it was. It broke free, broke the dock, drifted across the sound, miraculously ended up at an old mooring. Then we worried all night about the next coming tide.”
The plaques were presented to the Norwalk Fire Department Engine 3 Marine Unit and to Norwalk Police officers “in great appreciation of the courageous, meritorious service to protect lives and property during Hurricane Sandy.”
D’Andrea recommended people check out the video of the event on YouTube, shown below. “It doesn’t really give it justice but they were risking their lives walking on a dock that was falling apart to save the western side of our harbor. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.”
Honored were Captain Adam Markowitz, Firefighter Robert Huebner, Firefighter Richard Lozinak, Firefighter John O’Neill, Firefighter Michael Vinci and Mechanic Scott Plank of the Norwalk Fire Department; Lt. Michael Pirri, Sgt. Pete Lapak, Officer John Taranto and Officer Gregg Scully of the Norwalk Police Department and Captain Kevin Czarneki, Firefighter Gary Fuoco and Firefighter Mike Pryor of the Wilton Fire Dive Team.