Patient crossing at height of storm

SHERRI SUROZENSKI PHOTO | Fire, police, and ambulance personal with a patient from the Center drive aboard a boat at South Ferry Monday afternoon, when Sandy’s record tides filled the roadway. The flooding and angle between the ramp and boat deck were too much for an ambulance.

Sandy didn’t blow through without providing a backdrop for drama.

At the height of the storm, around 1 p.m. Monday, all Island first responders — ambulance EMTs, fire and police departments’ personnel — came to the rescue of an Island woman in her 90’s. She was at home in the Center experiencing respiratory distress that rapidly escalated into a “life threatening situation,” according to Town Police Det. Sgt. Jack Thilberg.

After police, EMTs, the woman herself and her family had all conferred, they agreed to take her from her home by ambulance to Southampton Hospital.

There was just one hitch.

Fire Department First Assistant Chief Will Anderson and five other firefighters, responding to South Ferry to help with the evacuation, could see that the road in front of the ferry slips was flooded to a height of three feet. Another problem was the loading ramp, which was pitched at a 45-degree angle up to the boat deck because of the storm tide.

It was clear the ambulance couldn’t get through the water or, even if it could, drive onto the deck without getting hung up.

Assistant Chief Anderson noticed that David Lingwood, who was waiting to board the ferry in his four-wheel drive diesel Ford pickup, had a vehicle that could manage the boarding process.

After a cellphone conference, the decision was made to transfer the elderly patient from the town ambulance to the bed of the Good Samaritan’s high-riding vehicle for the ferry crossing.

Weight would be important for ballast to keep Mr. Lingwood’s truck from slipping off course in the wind and tide but Assistant Chief Anderson wasn’t worried. “I knew I could put 1,000 pounds of firemen in the back,” he said.

The elderly woman was carried under a tarp and transferred to Mr. Lingwood’s vehicle, cared for every step of the way by 90-year-old paramedic Ben Jones, who refused to take “no” for an answer about accompanying her.

Ready to cross, the situation was treacherous, with shrieking winds gusting up to 90 mph and water so high the pilings of the bulkhead were nearly crested. South Ferry President Cliff Clark said he’d never seen water so high in the 58 years since Hurricane Carol hit the Island.

“None of us wanted to take that boat,” Assistant Chief Anderson admitted. But Captain John Westervelt “did a phenomenal job,” docking at North Haven “no worse than a regular landing,” he added.

A Sag Harbor ambulance met the ferry at North Haven and the woman and family members were taken without incident to Southampton Hospital.

“I was proud to be part of it,” said Assistant Chief Anderson.

“It was a remarkable adventure,” Mr. Jones said.

The patient, in good spirits throughout the journey, had the last word. At one point she said to her rescuers, “I thought I’d seen it all on Shelter Island.”