Finally, she had gone.
At Shrewsbury Hose Company Tuesday morning a bleary-eyed Fire Chief Jerzy Chojnacki appeared from his darkened office wearing the effects of a long night lost to Hurricane Sandy on his face.
Standing in the kitchen littered with water bottles and mostly-empty food trays, Chojanki, who just hours earlier was on the road with his crew in the heavy rain and gusts of wind up to 75 miles per hour responding to emergency calls, looked over at volunteer fire fighter Vance Dunn and said simple "I'm going to make some pancakes."
Hurricane Sandy was the first category one hurricane to hit New Jersey since these things have been recorded. Hours before it reached land, evacuations had been called for residents living in flood-prone areas. Local officials had made their earlier warnings official, signing declarations of emergency, prohibiting travel and encouraging residents to find some place safe to stay the night. For the area's first responders, warning calls are a call to action.
"People who were out there in it said it was like a war zone," Dunn, arriving back at the fire department on Route 35 with a cup of coffee after a brief respite said. "People with 25 years of experience were saying that. This was the worst storm we'd seen."
Though the extent of the damage done by Sandy is still unknown, downed trees and wires left many roads throughout Red Bank and Shrewsbury neighborhoods impassable Tuesday morning, orange cones and hastily-erected wooden barriers propped up in roadways creating a maze of detours through both towns.
Eventually, local fire departments, rescue squads and departments of public works, unable to clear downed wires or work outside in the storm for too long, instead attempted to mitigate the risks for residents by setting up detours and clearing paths wide enough for emergency vehicles to make it through.
"You can only do so much out there before you become part of the problem, not the solution," Dunn said.
Despite the severity of the storm and its, thankfully, unrealized potential, at least locally, first responders dutifully stayed with their departments, leaving homes and families to uncertainty as the night stretched on and Sandy raged over head. With widespread outages and limited access to news and weather reports, Dunn said fire fighters were often left wondering about what was going on back home.
According to the Department of Energy, nearly 2.5 million New jersey residents, or 62 percent, are currently without power in what may be the most devastating storm the state has ever seen. According to Jersey Central Power and Light's outage map, as many as 5,600 residents in Red Bank and Shrewsbury were without power, though that total is likely much higher.
One fellow fire fighter talked to his wife over the phone back at their home in Long Branch in between responding to calls in Shrewsbury, Dunn said. At first she told him the water had reached the steps. The next call she said the water had reached the top of the truck tires outside. Another volunteer stayed in Shrewsbury, responding to calls and eventually crashing on a cot in the Hose Company as he wondered if his Middletown home would still be there when he arrived the next morning.
Similar situations played out in Red Bank as well. Early Tuesday morning a skeleton crew remained at the Red Bank First Aid and Rescue Squad, taking brief naps while still wearing their emergency gear. Late Monday, first aid volunteer Tom Cosgrove said the squad was pulling double duty: responding to calls and serving as a relief center for residents who felt in danger.
"It's the same for us," Dunn said. "Waiting, that's about all we could do."