Puerto Rico's finest: How police and firefighters are helping civilians after Maria - Metro US

Puerto Rico’s finest: How police and firefighters are helping civilians after Maria

The fatigue that inevitably comes with repeated 12-hour work shifts isn’t deterring police and fire officials in Puerto Rico from going the extra mile in the wake of Hurricane Maria. 

The local heroes have been working almost nonstop since well before Maria struck the island. According to agent Jose Antonio Rivera Ortiz, the long shifts began from the emergency that arose in the wake of Hurricane Irma three weeks ago. But that has not taken away the spirit of Rivera, 42, who yesterday was located on Pinero Avenue in Rio Piedras controlling traffic.

“I’ve been able to help people and give them support, even if it’s in the form of guidance,” said the San Juan agent as he directed traffic. “We are controlling things, people have been cooperating.”

“I have not been able to go see them because [police] are glued to our work, but I have been able to have telephone communication,” he explained about his family in Ponce and Yauco. 

Not only has the state police been active at all times, but the municipal police have also stepped up. Sgt. Luis Diaz Figueroa has been working alongside 20 other agents in the area of Santurce to oversee traffic control and any other tasks that the community requires.

“Citizens have brought police food and water, and we’re thankful because we’ve in fact been neglecting our own needs to care for others,” said Figueroa.

The agent has three children – 8, 10 and 21 years old. The oldest of the three is part of the United States Army and is also offering support to the people on the island after Maria. Figueroa finally saw his children, who live in Naranjito, on Sunday.

“It’s part of the work that we have to do,” he said of his time away from his kids. “It’s the work we chose.”

A father, a daughter, and a fire truck

Police aren’t the only ones working long hours for the sake of their island. Puerto Rico’s firefighters have also been working around the clock to clear debris and attend to emergencies.

Lt. Santos Ayala of the Barrio Obrero fire station in San Juan said firefighters have worked hand-in-hand with Medical Emergencies officials in the rescue and transportation of people.

“From the moment the sun broke through after the hurricane, we’ve been struck by what we’ve seen, what we’ve experienced,” said Ayala. He described “moments of anguish” after the storm, when he didn’t know whether his family was safe. He was able to reach his wife and two children, aged 10 and 19, about 42 hours after Maria’s passage. After that, his 19-year-old daughter decided to join her father’s job as a volunteer and accompany him and the firefighters.

“I wanted to join my dad to help Puerto Rico any way I can since we are in a crisis, and I have never experienced anything like this,” said his daughter, Sannette Ayala Román.

The teen recounted her reunion with her father: “I came out with tears. It was a very beautiful moment because all the tension went away.”

Immediately after meeting her father, the young woman rode with him in the fire truck. “I’ve always liked this,” she said.

About 1,650 firefighters are working around Puerto Rico in debris removal, rescue and emergency care, as well as 86 additional NYPD firefighters who came to the island to help with recovery. About 372 Puerto Rican state police are patrolling roads around the island.

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