As the borough's firefighters, first aid volunteers and police officers worked their way through the wee hours of the night, rescuing Point Borough residents in the first hours after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, there was an unlikely rescuer at work.
Rolling into some of the hardest hit areas of the borough, where the water was in some cases 5 feet deep or more, Jude Walker plucked residents from their flooded homes … in the borough's front loader.
“Some climbed into the bucket from their front doors, some climbed through the windows of their houses,” Walker said. One family was rescued from their home’s second-floor balcony.
Walker shared his story at the Point Borough Council meeting Tuesday night, as the council discussed the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Fire chief Dan Mulligan said the fire department was busy rescuing people from flood waters, going into some areas using the department's Zodiac boat to reach people who were trapped.
"One woman broke down after we rescued her family," Mulligan said.
But Mayor William Schroeder singled Walker out for his unusual efforts, because it wasn't in the job description of those in the public works department.
"I walked into the emergency management center and all I could hear was this guy on the radio, in the middle of nowhere in a front end loader saving people,” Schroeder said.
“I heard Jude was rescuing people in the loader,” said Bob Forsyth, the superintendent of public works, who added that he said to others, “Is that something we do?”
For Walker, a longtime member of the fire department, rescuing people was absolutely something he does. And when the dispatcher called him, screaming about people needing to be rescued, he knew he had to act.
The road department had been out clearing trees Monday in the midst of the storm, Walker said, but as the eye passed and the wind began to pick up again, they sent the department's workers home to safety.
He hadn't been asleep long when he got the call.
“That tidal surge really changed a lot of people’s lives,” Walker said.
He called into service the piece of equipment where the engine sat the highest above the ground, so it would be safe from the flood waters. And when he pulled the front end loader down Christine Court at 3:45 a.m. to rescue a man and his dog who were trapped by more than 5 feet of water, Walker said, “I knew right then it was going to be one of the longest days of my life.”
"The water had reached the box spring when we got them out," he said.
Walker, aided first by members of the fire department and later by two other members of the road department -- George Daley and Mike Kralovich -- continued working in some of the most flooded streets in Sunshine Harbor and Bay Point Harbor, rescuing whole families who had been trapped.
“We had six people and two dogs in the bucket” on one rescue, he said. “I wasn’t turning anyone away because they wanted to bring their dog or cat.”
In all, he said, they rescued 150 people over the course of 17 hours in the front end loader. Some were people who had medical issues, and he found himself relaying medical evaluations to EMTs as he transported them in the bucket.
"Even that was unique," Walker said.
Once rescued, people were transferred to school buses at a staging area set up at Rue Lido and Beach Boulevard, and they were taken from there to the borough’s refuge center at the Borough High School, Walker said.
“The superintendent gave us two buses and two drivers,” he said. It was a tremendous help.
“I can honestly say it is one of the proudest days of my life,” said Walker, a lifelong resident of the borough. “There was no loss of life.”