After Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast, Cummins Inc. crews, working at all hours, provided generators to power homes, hospitals and even an aquarium.
Just before the storm, they also repaired equipment that helped pump millions of gallons of water out of tunnels connecting Brooklyn and Queens with Manhattan.
At the peak of the storm, about 400 pieces of Cummins equipment generated about 217 megawatts of electricity, about as much as a small power plant. The power was being transmitted through about 250,000 feet of cable.
Cummins Power Systems employees in New Jersey coordinated the effort primarily from their homes and while on the road — because their office was inundated by about five feet of water.
Steve Philips, general manager of the rental department for Cummins Power Systems, joked last week that his office was in Newark, “before it decided to enter the Atlantic Ocean for a brief period.”
Philips has retained his sense of humor despite also suffering some damage to his own home and going with little sleep for several weeks.
During one stretch, he stayed awake for more than 20 straight hours. He fell asleep at 11 p.m. with the computer in his lap while trying to type an email for a customer, waking up three hours later.
The Cummins office in Newark includes eight core staff members, including three technicians, three sales and logistics employees and two administrators, Philips said.
Right after the storm hit, “the phone really (didn’t) stop ringing,” Philips said.
At the peak, he got about 45 calls per hour.
He had to take a lot of messages and determine where the company’s resources could be deployed for the greatest effect.
The crew had to keep track of where pieces of equipment were, when they were no longer needed, and who would get them next.
The equipment ranged from an output of about 35 kilowatts, enough to power a home, to two megawatts, sufficient for a hospital or manufacturing plant.
Philips said Cummins generators provided power for nursing homes, hospitals and the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn.
For Vince Cardieri, superintendent for the New York City Transit Authority, getting quick service from Cummins was essential to be able to provide rail service for 3 million people daily.
Cardieri said that a few days before Sandy hit, one of the authority’s three pump trains, which pump water out of the transit tunnels, stopped working. Transit authority employees spent days trying to identify and fix the problem, but came up dry of answers.
Cardieri said they called Cummins on a Friday afternoon, two days before the storm hit. Cummins immediately sent a technician, who identified the problem within one hour so the pump train was ready to go the day before the storm.
“From then on, the three pump trains worked nonstop for nearly 10 days,” Cardieri said.
The pump trains were used in the five tunnels connecting Brooklyn and Queens with Manhattan, Cardieri said. The tunnels, which run beneath rivers, all were completely flooded.
The pump trains pumped the water through long hoses into the streets or sewer systems.
Without those pump trains clearing those tunnels, Cardieri said, millions of people would not have been able to use passenger trains to get into Manhattan. It would have added a great deal of congestion to the bridges into the city, he said.
Scott Patrohay, president of Cummins Power Systems, said Cummins employees took extraordinary steps to take care of customers.
In many cases Cummins employees were dealing with personal hardships related to the storm, and yet they worked together, kept a good attitude and got the job done, Patrohay said.
In some cases, service technicians slept on cots at the customers’ sites to be available if any problems arose during the storm.
Their work was critical, Patrohay said, because the employees provided services to emergency and medical personnel.
“It literally can be life-and-death situations,” he said.
Philips’ office, meanwhile, has been emptied completely. Cleanup and remediation will take two to three months, Patrohay said.
The company plans to bring in some rented office trailers to provide a temporary workspace.