“I just love living in Long Branch. . .so many cultures and the diversity. . .and when a tragedy like 9/11 comes about, everyone from all walks of life just comes together to help out. . .”
Thus spoke Congressman Frank Pallone back in September of 2005 at the Long Branch School District’s annual 9/11 Memorial service, which was held on the high school’s football field. At the time, I was the president of the West End School PTO and attended the ceremony with the teachers and students. Just as the city’s residents all came together when the events of 9/11 unraveled, Frank’s words ring true now more than ever after the events in the West End section of Long Branch over the last week.
On the morning of Feb. 13, a fire broke out in a building located in the business section of Brighton Avenue, and with the help of the wind, spread eastward and engulfed several more buildings along with the apartments located on the second floor. All told, eight businesses and 12 apartments were lost. The renters got out just with the clothes on their backs. Luckily, no lives were lost, but several family pets perished in the blaze.
The city’s firemen, police, and the public works employees worked as a team and did their part and then some to extinguish the blaze and limit the damage just to the several buildings affected. It could have been much worse since the wind was whipping towards the ocean that day. A good overhead exterior attack using the city’s ladder trucks helped minimize the damage to the rest of the block as best as it could. The FDLB also got help in fighting the fire from several outside fire companies under the city’s mutual aid agreement.
Within hours, all the social media outlets were abuzz with both the news of the fire and what to do to help out. Many groups of people from all walks of life got involved and set out to help all those affected. Central Jersey Bank set out to collect cash and gift cards to distribute to all those who lost everything in their apartments. The Draft House held a fundraiser to help out one of their bartenders who resided in one of the apartments and lost everything. Jack’s Ale House down the road on Brighton Avenue held another fundraiser to help out three Long Branch teachers and a Shore Regional teacher who also lost everything they owned.
The West End Fire Company was used as a drop-off point for clothes. The Greater Long Branch Chamber of Commerce began looking for commercial space within the city so that the businesses that were lost could relocate temporarily to keep people employed and the local economy moving until they could rebuild. There was even a Facebook group who got permission from the city to hold a candlelight vigil at West End Park in support of the fire victims as well as remember all the pets that lost their lives.
Everyone who was affected by this tragic event was being taken care of by a multitude of people, both from within and outside the Long Branch community. And what is so amazing about it all was that as bad as the economy is, nobody thought twice about donating clothes, giving money, or attending a fundraiser. Even a hug or offering words of encouragement to those people directly affected – it was something.
Yes, Frank Pallone’s words on the anniversary of one of this country’s most tragic events still ring true today in his hometown of Long Branch. The way people got together and took care of one another was so heartening, and their reaction to the events of the last week is one of the main reasons why I enjoy living in Long Branch, too.
(You can also follow Kevin Cieri's blog on his Facebook page, "Jersey Shore Retro" as well as on Twitter @jsretro).