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August 2020

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New Jersey Members Answer Call for
COVID-19 Work in the Virgin Islands

Ten members of Jersey City, N.J., Local 164 recently answered a special job call that transported them on a 1,700-mile journey south.

The National Guard in the Virgin Islands needed people to help them turn one of their dorms into a temporary COVID-19 hospital, said Local 164 Business Manager Daniel Gumble. "Like a lot of places, they wanted to make sure they had enough hospital beds to handle a possible coronavirus outbreak."

The New Jersey-Virgin Islands connection came courtesy of Huen Electric, an IBEW signatory contractor that had been tasked with turning a gymnasium at the Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus into a temporary COVID-19 treatment facility. Huen also had been tapped to take on similar work at a National Guard facility on St. Croix, the largest of the three main islands that make up the southeastern-most U.S. outpost.

"Huen asked if they could take some of the folks out of our hall and we cleared it with the appropriate jurisdictions," said Local 164 President Thomas Sullivan. Along with its companion territory Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands fall under the purview of the IBEW's Fifth District.

Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in February, the number of cases within the Virgin Islands has remained relatively and fortunately low. Of approximately 106,000 residents, 76 had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus by mid-June, and six deaths were attributed to it.

New Jersey, sadly, has much more experience dealing with COVID-19. Over the same time period, the Garden State has recorded nearly 170,000 COVID-19 cases, the third-highest number in the U.S., as well as the second-highest number of deaths caused by the disease, behind only its neighbor, New York.

But though the Virgin Islands' government had seen a measure of success in keeping COVID-19 from spreading, it wasn't about to take any chances. Watching the virus spread rapidly across much of the rest of the U.S., the territorial health department reached out to its local National Guard unit for help locating facilities that could be converted into emergency hospitals should a more serious outbreak occur.

The Guard determined that one of its buildings, a barracks at the 210th Regional Training Institute on its Estate Bethlehem compound, was an ideal facility that could be quickly turned into an alternate care facility specifically capable of treating COVID-19 patients.

"The building was really screwed up when we got there, though," said Matthew Curatola, one of the 10 journeyman inside wiremen from Local 164 who were flown to St. Croix on April 25.

Given a two-week deadline, the crew — which also included members from New Brunswick, N.J., Local 456 and Miami Local 359 — worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to quickly convert the barracks into a treatment facility capable of meeting residents' potential COVID-19 needs.

"Every workday started at 7," Curatola said. Arriving at the job site, Guard personnel took the workers' body temperatures using a contactless laser thermometer, and they supplied the electricians with protective face masks and hand sanitizer. "We would also wash our hands constantly," he said.

The crew installed new lighting and outlets in the building as well as hospital-specific items such as a nurse's call center and a negative pressure room, a chamber where a machine brings in fresh air and then filters out contaminants before pumping the air back outside, thus helping to prevent airborne disease viruses from spreading.

"Of course, we had to keep our masks on at all times, and that was tough because the heat there felt extreme," Curatola said. Although the tropical breezes keep the islands' outdoor areas comfortable, the average high temperature on St. Croix hovers in the upper 80s to low 90s year-round.

"Probably the biggest challenge was getting material," he said, with the closest U.S. mainland point in Florida about a 1,200-mile airplane ride away. "You could order things, but it took a while for it to get there."

It wasn't hard for the wiremen to drive out for an occasional small-supply run, though, considering St. Croix is 22 miles long and 7 miles across at its widest point. Typically, they could get what they needed from the island's nearby — and only — Home Depot.

But sometimes, their supplies would arrive on a massive military cargo airplane. "It was pretty cool seeing a C-130 come in with all of our material," Curatola said.

With tourism on the Virgin Islands practically nonexistent on account of COVID-19, the Guard was able to put the Local 164 members up at one of the island's mostly vacant resorts. In their downtime, the crew managed to get out and explore their temporary neighborhood.

"The Army Corps people said, 'We're so happy you guys are here,'" Curatola said. "Or, you'd be in the local deli or gas station and tell people what you were there for, and they would say 'thank you.'"

Also on the job from Local 164 were Edwin Espinal, Mike Grey, Jack Hetherington, Robert Lambert, Dave Mallet, Anthony Matesic, Shawn Mathews, Dave McCluney, Mike Schmidt, Scott White and Jim Zelenka.

Despite the plush accommodations and the island's renowned natural beauty, the trip was anything but a vacation, Curatola said. Working 12-hour days helped the workers get a good handle on the job from the start. They finished by the May 5 deadline and got safely home to their families with thanks from grateful islanders for a job well done.


Ten members of Jersey City, N.J., Local 164 flew to the U.S. Virgin Islands in April to build a temporary COVID-19 hospital.

Long Island Members Power New Navy SEAL Museum

When members of Long Island, N.Y., Local 25 learned of a museum being built to honor a local Navy SEAL hero, they were all in.

"Anytime somebody calls us to help out with any military or veteran causes, we're always happy to help," said Local 25 Business Manager Kevin Casey.

The Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy Museum, located on the waterfront in West Sayville on the south shore of Long Island, has deep roots in the community. Murphy was from Long Island and died in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. He and three other SEALs were conducting a reconnaissance mission high up in the mountains when they were spotted and then attacked by a force of more than 50 militia members. Murphy risked his own life when he moved out into the open to get a signal to call for help.

Despite being fired at, he made the connection, though it cost him his life. Only one person survived, fellow SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who went on to write a book that became the movie "Lone Survivor." More Americans died that day than any other during Operation Enduring Freedom. It was also the single largest loss of life for Naval Special Warfare since World War II.

"In my house, Mike Murphy is a hero," said Casey, whose son is currently serving in the Army in South Korea, and is a member of Local 25. Casey also has other family members in the military.

Between six and 10 Local 25 members worked on the project, doing all of the electrical work including power, lighting, fire and burglar alarms, and teledata. Some members are even planning to volunteer to come in on weekends and work without pay. In addition to getting much of the material donated, NECA and Local 25 raised more than $75,000 for the project.

"I've run a lot of projects in my career. Those projects were just, 'Hey, let's put up another building.' This project is so heartfelt," Mike Ferrante, director of maintenance for signatory B&G Electric said in a NECA video.

The work on the 10,000-square-foot space, which began in 2019, was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic but is expected to be completed later this year. The museum is the first of its kind in the Northeast.

The Murphy museum project is an extension of Local 25's ongoing work to support veterans. Casey says members have donated their time to restore a local Veterans of Foreign Wars hall and a veteran's hospital in Northport. At the hospital, contractors paid for the lights which members installed for free.

Local 25 members also worked on two field hospitals in Long Island to help with the demand for beds created by the coronavirus pandemic.


Members of Long Island, N.Y., Local 25 worked on a museum project to honor local fallen hero Lieutenant Mike Murphy.

Pa. Food Drive Fills Shelves of Area Charities

By the numbers, there were seven pickup trucks, 30 deliveries, six food banks and $15,000 in cash donations to help feed the community that Chester, Pa., Local 654 has served proudly for 80 years.

The acts of kindness, generosity and solidarity, though, were countless.

"It takes everybody," said 35-year member Tommy Loughead, a journeyman inside wireman who serves on the executive board. "All our local brothers and sisters, everybody came together and did a great job. It was really uplifting."

Two months into the COVID-19 crisis, volunteers including Loughead and Business Manager Paul Mullen pitched in at a food drive sponsored by state Rep. Jennifer O'Mara. The urgency was clear. At a virtual meeting of the executive board, they proposed that Local 654 run its own.

"We know that food pantries are in need of resources more than ever, and our members aren't the type to just sit back and not get involved," Mullen said. "We wanted to do our part. The response was unbelievable."

They scheduled the event for three hours on June 6, ran two full-page ads in the newspaper, hung flyers in grocery stores and take-out restaurants, and spread the word on social media.

Some eager donors began dropping off groceries early, but most rolled through the carefully planned drop-off site in Local 654's parking lot at the appointed hour.

"At our local hall, we set up tables, so we wouldn't have contact," Loughead said. "They'd drive through and pop their trunks. We'd unload the donations and put them on pickup trucks to go to six different food banks."

Mullen said three other IBEW locals in the region were especially generous. Philadelphia Local 98 filled a U-Haul truck and drove a half hour southwest to the local's Boothwyn, Pa., hall, near the state's shared border with Delaware and New Jersey. More groceries came from Trenton, N.J., Local 269, an hour away, and members from Philadelphia Local 614 arrived with $1,100 they raised on a GoFundMe page.

In all, the local collected $15,000 in cash donations that they will use to buy more groceries for food banks in Delaware and Chester counties.

"We have been struggling to keep up with distributing food and supplies because of COVID -19," said Rev. Ben Greimer, whose church runs a food pantry. "The food and supplies from IBEW 654 will greatly benefit our compassion ministry."

Jean Beck of the Trainer Community Food Bank said through her charity alone, "Local 654 has helped feed the 45 families, 15 veterans and 15 seniors that we serve."

Among many other good deeds, the local sent 1,500 meals to workers at three hospitals on designated days in May, which had the bonus of bringing much-needed business to an area catering company. "Our local is founded in community service and all of our members love getting involved and giving back," Mullen said.

More plans are in the works, said Loughead, whose father and two brothers were also Local 654 journeymen. Looking toward the holidays and the certainty that more families than ever will be in need, he said a toy drive may be on the fall agenda.

"On the news, you see people out of work, people who live paycheck to paycheck and now they don't have a paycheck," he said. "We're trying to do whatever we can."


Volunteers at Local 654 headquarters in Boothwyn, Pa., load food drive donations from community members and IBEW brothers and sisters into pickup trucks for delivery to six area food banks.