Bronx’s Blue Hats help hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

Bronx’s Blue Hats help hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico
Photo courtesy of William Rivera

A group of rescue professionals from the borough spent a week in Puerto Rico helping victims of Hurricane Maria.

The team of five current and former NYPD and FDNY members, dubbed the Blue Hats because Jet Blue provided them with a flight to the island, performed daily humanitarian missions throughout Puerto Rico, said group members.

The group was helping the island recover from Sunday, October 1 to Monday, October 9.

One of the members, William Rivera, Community Board 9’s district manager, spent two weeks on the island, finally leaving on Saturday, October 14.

“We called our group the Blue Hats, because Jet Blue sponsored our relief flight,” said Rivera, a former FDNY member for 15 years and a past Jet Blue employee.

He added: “It was scary from the beginning because we did not know what we were getting into, but we had a set of skills and we knew we could help.”

The Blue Hats are a group of friends from the borough including Rivera, Herman Tyson, Efrain Dominguez, Jason Melendez and Brandon Ganaishlal, stated Rivera.

Melendez, a police officer who comes from Pelham Bay, said that he wanted to help because had family on the island, and without any telephone or Internet contact, Melendez said he wanted to see if they were safe.

He said that he was able to locate them, putting his elderly grandmother at ease.

Melendez said he was left with a warm feeling by the reaction of people they were helping when visiting places impacted by the storm.

They gave away fresh water and supplies provided by the Red Cross to people who are going without electricity, clean water and other necessities, he said.

“Everyone always smiled and they always said ‘thank you,’” said Melendez. “That is going to stay with me forever – the way Hispanics say thank you, the tone of voice, whether male or female, is very genuine.”

Rivera said during his second week on the island he was mostly in the mountainous central part of Puerto Rico.

Mudslides on treacherous mountain roads were commonplace, he said, adding he believes that these mudslides will add to the death toll from the hurricane, which now stands at 48.

He recalled that after arriving on October 1 and meeting officials in public safety at a staging area, the team was sent out on a mission a day, based on what local officials said was needed, said Rivera.

They worked closely with another all-volunteer team from the Chicago Fire Department, said Rivera.

One project was cleaning debris and rocks from a conduit to a pumping station that provides drinking water in Isabela, said Rivera.

They helped local fire department officials who did not speak English fill out Federal Emergency Management Agency paperwork, he said.

Nearly a month after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, about 80 percent of the island remained without power, and much of it lacked cell phone service, said Rivera.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.