The water was rising in the clubhouse, the highest piece of land in the Breezy Point peninsula. Eighteen volunteer firefighters had taken refuge there with 41 civilians they rescued from superstorm Sandy throughout the day.
In the firehouse next door, water had risen to the six-foot mark. Although they were warned about the surge of water, they were unprepared when in five minutes water rose from their ankles to their chests.
Meanwhile, winds off the ocean were blowing smoke and embers from burning, mostly wood-frame houses. The fires were set off by sparks as homes filled with gas because the mains had not been turned off.
Outside night had fallen -- 8:45. The question for those in the clubhouse was: Do we stay and risk asphyxiation from the smoke or do we take on waters that appear to be receding to make our escape?
They chose the latter. Miraculously, it seemed, volunteer fire chief Marty Ingram had timed it perfectly.
But there was another potential problem. What of the volunteer fire department's two custom-made fire trucks, Big Jack and Sand Flea? Would they start up? Or would the rising salt water have flooded them?
Another miracle. The trucks started up. After dropping civilians at a market, volunteers drove Sand Flea to the promenade, where fires raged. They saved perhaps 100 homes. And there were no deaths.
This is the story of superstorm Sandy as told from the front lines by volunteer firefighter and NYPD cop Sebastian Danese, the son of retired Lt. Sebastian John Danese and nephew of the late Gus Danese, the former head of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association. The younger Danese's self-published book, "The Battle of Breezy Point," is detailed and gritty and refutes some of what the city administrators said at the time about looting. Unlike what officials said, there was plenty of looting, primarily by men arriving in small boats from Brighton Beach, according to Danese.
In all, 125 houses burned. On the second anniversary of Sandy this week, two-thirds have been rebuilt, despite what Danese said has been haggling by insurance companies, price gouging for repairs, disappointment with agencies such as the Red Cross and FEMA, and human greed.
His story, however, is a testament to the courage of those who stayed and saved.