Rotterdam Junction’s firehouse boomed with the powerful voices of a community that refused to give up.
They held hands and proudly sang around the small brick station that served as a safe harbor for angst-filled residents in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene’s devastation.
Now a year later, the station has become a symbol of the resilience of the sleepy hamlet —a gleaming source of pride during the dark months that followed the flood.
The firehouse opened its doors to the community again Tuesday. Only this time, it was to commemorate where the volunteers and flood victims assembled to begin rebuilding the small hamlet on the Mohawk River.
“Folks knew where to come to eat and for shelter,” the Rev. Kent McHeard of Woestina Reformed Church said during the service. “And when we needed direction, we came here.”
The station and grounds around it were filled to a capacity that hadn’t been seen since the immediate aftermath of the disaster. In this case, though, laughter and smiles were traded among the more than 100 people who turned out for the service.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, praised the Rotterdam Junction Fire Department and its volunteers for being exactly what the community needed in wake of the disaster. He also praised residents of the hamlet for never giving up hope, even in the face of the devastation left by Irene.
“Doors are open, lights are being turned back on and neighbors are sharing their front porches,” he said. “It’s a powerful statement about the community.”
Tonko also presented a proclamation to the Rotterdam Junction resident who helped feed the volunteer effort. At the peak of the recovery effort, Joann Canary was feeding upward of 200 people each week with a crew she later dubbed “the sandwich brigade.”
The effort started about a month after the flooding, as the station began the transition from a veritable refuge center back to functional firehouse. Canary, whose husband is a Rotterdam Junction firefighter, saw where she could help. Instead of having volunteers and flood victims meet at the firehouse for meals, she began bringing meals to them.
Each Saturday, Canary and several volunteers would load up three cars with lunches and fan out around the hamlet, looking for people in need of a meal. She continued the effort through the winter until turning the duty over to another volunteer in February.
Canary also helped bring a Christmas celebration to the recovering hamlet. Along with other volunteers, she brought a 6-foot-tall live spruce to the firehouse, where it was planted to symbolize the rebuilding of Rotterdam Junction and neighboring Pattersonville.
Canary said spreading holiday cheer was a small gesture that helped lift the spirits. The donated tree was followed by lights and Christmas presents that came in from around the county.
“We wanted people to see there was light there,” she recalled.