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A tribute to Westporters who served -- and protected -- during Sandy

Updated 11:18 am, Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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  • Bill Mitchell, left, co-owner of Mitchells of Westport store, chats with Deputy Police Chief Foti Koskinas at an event Monday evening to celebrate and acknowledge the town's first responders during Hurricane Sandy. Westport CT 12/10/12 Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News contributed
    Bill Mitchell, left, co-owner of Mitchells of Westport store, chats with Deputy Police Chief Foti Koskinas at an event Monday evening to celebrate and acknowledge the town's first responders during Hurricane Sandy. Westport CT 12/10/12 Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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Honoring the bravery of Westport's first responders despite the dangers and devastation wreaked by Superstorm Sandy, a reception Monday night paid tribute to the fortitude and perseverance they displayed in the face of one of the most severe natural disasters to hit town in decades.

The event was attended by more than 100 people at Mitchells of Westport.

Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury remembers the late-October night that Sandy struck.

"We were out when the wind was really blowing," he said. "It was actually the scariest (storm) I'd experienced in my life."

At the time, Kingsbury and his team were on Cross Highway, between North Avenue and Bayberry Lane, as Sandy's power began to take its toll.

"We were trying to get our radio system back up. We'd lost a transmitter."

Already unable to pass one downed tree to the east, they returned down Cross Highway to find another tree had fallen behind them, trapping them as the storm closed in.

"So we backtracked," said Kingsbury, also the town's top emergency-management official. "We cut through the schools ... We broke the lock on a gate to get through."

When they were finally able to get back to fire headquarters, he was able to tell everyone: "We got everyone off the road."

The Westport firefighters' scare took place about the same time that Easton volunteer Fire Lt. Russell Neary was killed by a falling limb while trying to clear debris in front of a truck in that town.

"They're the guys that really count," Bill Mitchell, the hosting store co-owner, said of the first responders.

"When you dial 911, you get the Police Department and you get the Fire Department, and they're really wonderful."

Dozens of people attended the get-together, including Police Chief Dale Call.

"What stands out for me is that I'm really glad we weren't in New York or New Jersey," he said. "I think we were fortunate. We dodged a bullet on this one."

Still, it was a memorable event for everyone, including Deputy Fire Chief Bob Kepchar.

"I've been here 34 years," he said, and yet the deluge that swept through the Main Street business district late that night shocked him.

"To be on Main Street and see three to four feet of water and no Saugatuck River bridge," he said, were indelible images.

"We had four family homes that all got hit," said Robin Tauck of Westport, including two houses on Compo Mill Cove that were hammered by high tides and wind.

"I was impressed that Westport's emergency workers were there," she said.

"I think there was so much care and concern for people's safety."