There was a common message at the Watchung Borough Council’s annual reorganization meeting on Tuesday.
The borough’s volunteers and emergency responders did an “amazing” job in the chaos caused by Superstorm Sandy in October and there were a lot of lessons learned in the aftermath of the storm, the one event that affected every Watchung resident in 2012.
In his annual address, Mayor Gerald Mobus, focusing more on 2012 than what lies ahead in 2013, said the borough’s emergency responders are “local heroes.”
“They continue to amaze me,” he said. “They were there for us.”
The mayor cited the efforts of the Watchung Volunteer Fire Department, which answered more than 100 calls in the eight days after Sandy struck, and the Watchung Rescue Squad, whose members overcame literal obstacles with fallen trees blocking roads to check on the welfare of the elderly and infirm after the storm.
Mobus also lauded the efforts of the Department of Public Works, which had the major roads in the borough cleared a day and a half after the storm and the employees at Borough Hall who, without electricity and heat, fielded more than 1,000 calls from residents. DPW employees also delivered flyers with emergency information to homes in the days after the storm.
The mayor also praised the efforts of the police department, which had to handle two major road closures in the storms’s aftermath, and Gary Greves, head of the borough’s Office of Emergency Management, who coordinated the borough’s response to the storm.
Mobus singled out the efforts of Skip Bell, whom he deputized after Sandy to work as a liaison with the utility companies who were restoring power in the two weeks after the storm. In mentioning Bell’s “diplomatic skills” and 6-foot-6 height, Mobus said, “who in their right mind would argue with Skip?”
The storm also showed how the borough could better respond to an emergency, Mobus said. “We have a lot of work to do,” he said.
The mayor’s sentiments were echoed by council members.
Councilman Stephen Pote, unanimously elected council president at the reorganization meeting, said a review of the borough’s response to the storm was enlightening.
“We’ll be better prepared to serve you,” he told residents.
Councilman Stephen Black said the fire department’s decision to have the firehouse staffed 24 hours a day after Sandy was “unprecedented.”
“They did an amazing job,” he said.
Black said the rescue squad was “incredible” in checking on people and he praised DPW employees for their efforts.
“We will be even stronger from this storm,” he said, adding that PSE&G still needs to do a better job maintaining its power lines.
Saying 2012 was full of “trials and tribulations,” Councilman Tom Franklin also praised the reaction to the storm.
“Our people did an amazing job,” Franklin said, explaining that such efforts re-enforce “the sense of family in a small town.”
Councilwoman Debra Juren echoed the compliments for the emergency responders and volunteers.
"This is what makes Watchung what it is,” she said.
Councilman William Nehls joked that his wish for 2013 is “no more storms in October.”
“We’re lucky in this town to have the volunteers we have,” he said. “We will make this town even better.”
Councilwoman Karen Cassidy said the lessons learned from Sandy were a “silver lining."
“We have a lot on our plate,” she said. “We will continue to make Watchung a stronger community.”
The mayor mentioned only one specific project he wanted to see completed in 2013—the restoration of the 50-year-old tennis courts at Mobus Field by summer.
It was up to Police Chief Timothy Wenzel to compliment the one borough official who had not been mentioned among those who helped during Sandy.
“The mayor was at every meeting,” Wenzel said. “He made the tough decisions.”