As Hurricanes Harvey and Irma cut their path of destruction, some of our very own were mobilizing to head out to assist in the immediate rescue and recovery efforts. Included in that list was SCPD Officer Jim Brucculeri – a patrol cop in Bay Shore’s 3rd precinct and a Military Load Master in the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard Reserves. “The last deployment to St. Maarten was the worst devastation I have ever seen,” says Brucculeri. He conducted missions with two other load masters from the Suffolk County Police Department and a Suffolk County police officer from Emergency Services, a para rescue jumper named Erik Blom. Brucculeri and the two other officers are load masters on an airplane known as an HC-130, which is a search and rescue plane. There are two sections, the cockpit and the back, known as the cargo part of the plane, and they are in charge of the cargo section. “We air drop equipment, supplies, or people; we’ve even dropped off quads, jet skis—any equipment that will help the para rescue jumpers find and stabilize survivors.” The plane, he explains, is very unique.  During combat, Brucculeri and his team go in on the HC–130 with a helicopter called an HH-60 Pave Hawk, and the team of para rescue jumpers. “We search, for injured personnel, stabilize them and fly out of combat together. We can refuel helicopters while we are in the air to keep the helicopters running 24/7 while they are on a search mission. We typically look for survivors of downed airplanes or for someone who falls off a boat if we are not in combat.” For the response to Hurricane Irma, the team was tasked to a search and rescue mission in the Caribbean, which took the direct hit of the category 5+ hurricane that destroyed or in Brucculeri’s words “annihilated” St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. In St. Maarten the team was looking for “targets of opportunity” – meaning people to save. “We had done the same thing in Houston the previous week,” says Brucculeri, “but it was different because Houston had water and floods. There were people on rooftops waving for help.” In contrast, the islands were just covered with rubble upon rubble, so they were searching for people in what he describes as a “confined rescue situation.” We got there at the right time as Hurricane Jose was churning just behind IRMA. The islands were off the grid with no power, no water, and very limited food – we had to get people out of there in a hurry. Several H-130’s were deployed on the mission, which included Brucculeri and his team. “We arrived in the middle of a torrential rain storm but in time to evacuate 1500 people,” he explains. “We loaded the planes and took people to Puerto Rico, which was 90 minutes away,” he told us. “We went back and forth for 48 hours. Our plane alone, rescued 525 people.” “It was rewarding and emotional. The minute people boarded the plane, you saw a look of relief, then they start crying and hugging each other. And it gets even better when they start cheering and singing – God Bless the USA,” says Brucculeri.” Puerto Rico made the entry as easy as possible, and of course the American Red Cross was there to assist. “We would get there and everyone would disembark together into customs. We had infants, children, elderly people, cancer patients, pregnant women, people with disabilities.” But Brucculeri’s team spent little time on the ground, as shortly after they had their passengers off the plane, they were up in the air headed back to rescue the remaining people stranded in the midst of the storm. Brucculeri and his fellow team members picked up two medical school students who said the winds clocked in at 220 miles an hour. “Think about it,” he says “Superstorm Sandy was 60 miles an hour. These winds were epic, of biblical proportion. This was the strongest hurricane in recorded history in the Atlantic Ocean.” He had taken part in the rescues for Hurricane Katrina and the recent event in Houston with Hurricane Harvey, however the destruction of the U.S. Virgin Islands was the worse devastation he had seen. Officer Brucculeri was so happy to get home to hug his wife and two children. They know how important his work is, so the sacrifice is worth it.  “I am very fortunate to have a wonderful and supportive family. We have a 3-year-old and a two-year-old, so when I get deployed to a mission it isn’t easy for my wife.  But when I come back from a mission and tell her about the people we helped to save, she remembers that’s part of the reason she married me.” And Brucculeri wouldn’t have it any other way. He feels blessed to have not only one, but two jobs that he loves. Officer Jim Brucculeri, is an Oyster Bay native with a marine biology degree from the University of Maryland and a Master’s Degree. He has sworn into the Suffolk County Police Department in 2007 and has been in the NY Air National Guard Reserves as part of the 106th Rescue Wing since 2001.

Thank you Officer Brucculeri for your service to our community and to the world at large. How proud we are of our Suffolk County Police Officers – they are family men and women, neighbors, and hero’s.