Edoardo “Junior” Ferrante scrambled through the flooded streets of Bayonne on September 25 during an unrelenting downpour in his all-wheel-drive SUV. His mission? To ensure flooded roads were closed, stranded citizens safe, and the public informed.
Ferrante isn’t in charge of performing rescues. He’s not a member of the police or fire departments. His job is to coordinate efforts among police, fire, and the department of public works to prepare for and respond to emergencies. That’s the mandate of the Bayonne Office of Emergency Management (OEM) which has one staff position, coordinator, Ferrante’s title.
Every municipality in the state has an OEM, which is funded by federal grants. The fire chief often doubles as the OEM coordinator in many towns, but that changed in 2016 in Bayonne when Mayor James Davis appointed Ferrante, who had spent three years with the Jersey City OEM.
Social media maven
“Since I became coordinator, one of the things I wanted to do was establish a social media presence and perform public outreach,” Ferrante said. “We never had anything in the way of social media for the OEM until the last few years. An informed public is a better prepared public, and we want them as aware as possible, so they can act and respond to emergencies and stay safe.”
“An informed public is a better prepared public.” — Edoardo “junior” Ferrante
“Ed has really ramped up the OEM,” said Fire Chief Keith Weaver. “He has unique computer skills, he’s very motivated, and has really elevated into the realm of social media to keep people informed. That information is powerful knowledge to the public. The aim of this is to keep people informed. During storms like this, Ed is dedicated. He is an asset to this city.”
Most Bayonne residents on social media have probably seen his posts picturing flooded and frozen streets, or those showing happenings at the police and fire departments, or his re-posts of the NJ OEM’s team of kayakers assisting in the rescue efforts in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence. The eye-catching pictures are always accompanied by edifying, real-time information, such as that concerning road closures and infrastructure updates.
“I have to keep people engaged and looking at the page,” Ferrante said.
He also uses the digital platforms to encourage residents to sign up for Swift911, which makes phone calls to residents in the event of an emergency, and recommends renters’ insurance.
Ferrante keeps a fire helmet and jacket in his trunk, along with orange cones, road flares, and other emergency responder must-haves. He spends a lot of time at the sites of house fires, helping to retrieve belongings from the site and connecting displaced residents to the Red Cross, for which he volunteered for 15 years.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a fire where a renter had insurance,” Ferrante said. “It’s stuff like that I like to raise awareness about.”
Not every day is as action packed as a flash flood. In early September, he partnered with a beekeeper to rid Fitzpatrick Park of a dangerous yellowjacket hive. Other times, the emergency was that the city had no water at all.
“I was woken up at one in the morning to find out we had no water in the city,” said Ferrante of one December night in 2017 when three water mains broke. “So, I had to scramble and call Hudson County OEM and activate the water tanker task force to make sure we had water on hand to supply to the fire department just in case there was a fire overnight. That was the longest day.”
Knowledge and experience
Ferrante is just one person with a big job. He’s taken hundreds of hours of classes with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is a major player in keeping the city’s emergency plans updated. He has to sign off on the plan to evacuate Bayonne in the case of a catastrophic emergency. One of Bayonne’s greatest safety benefits, said Ferrante, is the cohesion among the police, the fire department, emergency medical services, and the department of public works.
“The one good thing is that the agencies had a great partnership long before I got here,” Ferrante said. “You can tell as soon as you walk in the door how well the agencies work together. You can feel the cohesion here–it’s something else. We’re really fortunate in Bayonne.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.