The Unsung Heroes of The Pandemic
In 33 years of business in the concrete jungle that is New York City, we’ve seen a lot. From 9/11, to the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, to the 2008 financial crisis, to Hurricane Sandy, we New Yorkers have always shined the brightest during the darkest of times. As the pandemic continues and most of us continue to stay inside (as we should) there are heroes out there on the frontlines working every day to fight like hell against Covid-19.
Today we would like to share with you a story of very uncommon circumstances and highlight an overlooked group of unsung heroes of the pandemic. Heroes who could have stayed in the safety of their homes and done exactly what is being asked of them, but instead decided to suit up, go straight into the lion’s den and help fight against the pandemic in every way they can.
First off, we’d like to explain who we are, not because this story is about our company, because it’s not, but because it will offer needed context into the amazing displays of heroism by our employees that answered the call when help was needed. Simply put we are a moving company. That’s what we do. We help people and companies move anything you can imagine from point A to point B. We could list our services, try to convince you of how great we are, or go into more detail about us but that’s not important nor is that why we are writing this article. What IS important is to understand who our workers are. Our staff are not highly trained medical professionals, not experts in epidemiology, not scientists, not nurses and not doctors. What these men are is a group of extremely hard working and professional movers who take pride in their work and said yes when they were needed most in some of the most unusual circumstances one could even begin to imagine. At this point you’re probably thinking “How could a group of movers in any real way be considered heroes in a pandemic?” To that I say please bare with me and I promise that question will be answered for you.
The story starts out in Mid-March when New York officially became the epicenter of the pandemic. (I won’t mention any hospital staff members by name out of respect for their privacy, but I will mention the hospitals themselves). Harlem Hospital to their credit, began to prepare for a possible spread of Covid-19 within just a few days of March 11th the date in which the World Health Organization first declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. Harlem Hospital had asked our team members to clear out over 200,000 square feet of storage, offices, unoccupied space, and other floors within their facilities to make room in the event that they needed more space for hospital beds. Although this is not too uncommon for us to clear out space and we regularly assist Harlem Hospital, as well as many other hospitals with day to day moving, we do want to commend one of our long-time employees and phenomenal Project Manager, Richard Delacruz. Richard was able to get the job done with short staff 2 weeks before Harlem Hospital needed to use that space for new patients. Thank you, Richard.
The story continues when a week later Senior Project Manager, James Gargano received a call from a Queens Hospital employee, with whom James has a long-standing relationship with, who explained “James we’re having a huge problem at our hospital. Our nurses and doctors are so overworked, overwhelmed and exhausted that by the end of their shift they literally can’t pick up a coffee pot to make themselves a coffee. We need labor to assist our medical staff during their shifts so that they can continue to work under these conditions without collapsing from exhaustion. Oh, and before you say no, please keep in mind that we’re desperate and everyone else I called has already said no.”
James puzzled let him know he is sorry to hear that and that he’d talk it over with our team and we’d let him know as soon as possible. Internally we struggled with this decision like I’m sure every moving company who said no before us did. In order for us to make a decision we needed to first, make sure the work would be as safe as possible and that should we send our staff into the hospital, that they are given all necessary PPE, as well as be given proper training from medical professionals on how to avoid the virus. To which the hospital director said, “Absolutely when can you start?”. Sensing the eagerness in his voice we knew it was important to them, so we knew we owed it to them to at least try to make it work. Then we had to turn around and explain what was being asked of us to our field staff and see if anyone would even be willing to do so.
Again, we are being asked to send our guys into a hospital, in the epicenter of a pandemic, with no medical experience, while the pandemic is nearing its peak. When it’s put into perspective it’s pretty easy to see why so many people said no, a lot of guys did (and rightfully so), but just enough of them said “yes” that we thought we just might be able to make it work. We let the hospital know that we have a few brave men who were willing to answer the call, but we needed some time to educate ourselves on how to stay protected and learn basic safety protocol while in the hospitals. Thankfully my sister, Lauren Linares and my girlfriend, Jenna Hoffman are both veteran ICU nurses and both of their units at this point had been converted solely to assisting COVID-19 patients at NYU Langone Hospital and New York Presbyterian Weil Cornell Hospital respectively. Amidst grueling night shifts they both found the time to able to give us phenomenal safety instructions that they had received from two of the top ranked hospitals in the world. Thank you, Lauren, and Thank you, Jenna.
At this point we had a decision to make: On the one hand we of course want to do everything and anything we can to help, but on the other hand we of course want to keep our workers as safe as possible. After much back and forth and changing our mind multiple times, we decided that we were not going to stop brave men from an opportunity to help so long as they were fully aware of what they were being asked to do, knew the risk, and were given all necessary PPE.
Enter Steve Guardino, Randy Livingston, Jamar Anderson and let the story begin:
On April 3rd, Steven Guardino (left) a R started supervising our first hospital shift crew at Queens Hospial. Steve, (after making sure his crew was properly gowned) not only immediately began assisting the medical staff with their operations in any and every way possible on his first day, but also used his 10+ years of move experience to suggest specific actions the hospital could take that would significantly improve the efficiency of the operation. I won’t bore you with specifics on how he suggested a truck route for the hospital to quickly and efficiently get supplies, machines and whatever’s needed, but trust me Steve made a huge difference right away and the hospital knew it. So much so that the Queens Hospital asked to please send him and his crew back the next day…and the next day…and the next day…and the day after…and the day after that. Steve had, in such a short time become such an essential part of the chaotic operation in the hospital, that it wasn’t until 21 straight days of hospital shifts later that Steve felt his operation was running well enough to let his right hand man randy take charge before taking a single day off. Thank you, Steve.
To the left of Steve is Randy Livingston. Randy also started with our first crew on April 3rd. Randy has been Steve’s right hand man from the beginning and has shown the type of man he is and proven exactly what he’s made of throughout this disaster. Randy to this day has not taken a single day off since he began at Queens Hospital a BRS record 29 days ago. The mental toughness it takes to show up and be the best version of yourself day after day after day is not a quality many people possess, Randy does. Thank you, Randy
Jamaar (not pictured) Anderson also started with the original crew on April 3rd. Jamaar is one of BRS’ finest workers. If a job is not finished Jamaar does not leave until it is, that’s just the type of person he is. He embodies a term we often use “consider it done”. Jamaar has been working throughout multiple hospitals since he first answered the call on April 3rd helping to set up operations and assist with medical staff’s needs. He has been constantly praised by hospital staffs for his tireless work ethic and dedication. Since almost all hospitals in New York and New Jersey were experiencing the same over flow problems with their frontline workers being physically exhausted, word soon travelled if you need help “call BRS for help but we’re keeping Jamaar here.” Thank you, Jamaar
On the right you have a guy by the name of Ryan McDade. Ryan is a lifelong friend and had worked on the trucks for us for a few summers during college. For the last few years Ryan has been going through an apprentice training program to become an electrician. If I could think of one person who was built to handle this it would probably be… his dad Steve who’s retired FDNY and built like a work horse, but next on my list would be Ryan.
On April 4th after our shift had ended, I was speaking to Ryan about how we had been assisting hospital staff doing as much labor for them as we could and now more hospitals were calling desperate for support to which Ryan replied, “When can I start?”. He started the next day at Harlem Hospital. As I’m writing this on May 1st, he has not taken off a single day. To reiterate Ryan, despite not being a regular employee, has worked backbreaking and mentally draining 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week for the past 25 days straight. When asked if he needed a break, he said “I’ll work every day until they don’t need me anymore.” That statement stuck with me as I realized that like his father, Ryan was born to help others. Ryan has done and continues to do a phenomenal job. He quickly learned where hospitals most needed support and soon after his first few shifts helped lead a 24/7 operation at what was at the time being called “ground zero” of the pandemic, Elmhurst Hospital alongside a few other heroes. Thank you, Ryan
It is now April 7th and word has began to spread even more from hospital director to hospital director about how our staff has assisted the frontline workers and significantly eased the physical toll of their shifts and we’re now being called by 2 more major hospitals in need of immediate assistance. St Joseph’s Hospital in Wayne NJ and St Joseph’s Hospital in Patterson NJ.
It is at this point where we are introduced to three more heroes Alberto Gonzales, Alessandro Muniz (unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of them), and Jesse Rivera. More and more brave men are now volunteering to help after hearing from other employees about how much of a difference they were making at these hospitals. To give you some context into Alberto’s work ethic, Alberto on his first day was asked to cover an 8:00AM shift with Muniz. Unfortunately, at this time we did not have the resources to cover another 3:00PM shift the same day for Harlem Hospital, so we had planned to let them know that unfortunately we didn’t have the resources. Alberto and Muniz heard about the need for support there so Muniz covered the rest of the shift by himself so that Alberto could leave his 8:00AM shift (with the hospitals permission) to go straight to work another shift where he knew he was needed more. That tells you everything you need to know about the characters of Alberto and Alessandro.
As for Jesse Rivera (above) he has been huge for us as a consistent presence that can be relied on by hospital staff to ease the burden whenever he can. Not to mention all 3 had to adjust their sleep schedule to 12-hour night shift during all this. To this day Alberto Gonzalez, Alessandro Muniz and Jesse Rivera, since they started on April 7th have worked 24 straight 12 hour night shifts without taking a single day off. Thank you, Alberto. Thank you, Alessandro. Thank You Jesse
It is now around 6:00PM April 7th and in 4 days we’ve went from serving just one hospital with a crew of 4 guys to 7 hospitals requesting our services 24/7 and the desperation in their voices was palpable. If you have any loved ones on the frontlines in a hospital, you know that around this time the emotional and physical tolls we’re starting to really wane on people. The amount of cases was growing exponentially in New York and it felt like each day was harder than the last. The level to which people were overwhelmed is something that I couldn’t stand to see and only made me more frustrated that we didn’t have the resources to help them all
Enter Kyle Strehle:
Kyle Strehle is a neighbor, former BRS employee, lifelong friend, and will be in the next class in “New York’s Bravest” the FDNY. As fate would have it, I ran into his sister Caroline, who just happens to also be a frontline hero (there’s plenty of heroes in this story) working as a nurse at Memorial Sloane Kettering Hospital (thank you Caroline) while I was driving to check in on our staff working a shift in Harlem. After talking a bit, we began to discuss our company’s dilemma with helping hospitals that are in dire need of resources that we just don’t have at the moment. To which Caroline said, “Call Kyle.” I proceeded to let Kyle know of the dilemma we were having and that the job is obviously optional but if he is interested all these hospitals could use the help. To which he responded, “yeah sure, how many people do you need, and when do you need me to start?” to which I replied, “as many as you can and tomorrow”. Kyle started his first 12 hour shift the next day. What Kyle also did for us was by some miracle, find 4 other brave young men from our hometown of Rockaway Beach, and Breezy Point, Damon Anderson, Joe Brown, Luke Erhard and Christopher Ray that were also willing to start THE NEXT DAY. I guess it’s a bit less scary to walk into the lion’s den when you have friends with you. We proceeded to create a group text in which we outlined the safety protocols given to us by medical professionals, went over company policies, and since their local guys, drove to their houses that night to drop off uniforms. Kyle has been probably the single most important person in getting the support these hospitals needed and just like many others before him, since his first day April 8th, Kyle has not taken off a single day working 23 straight 12-hour shifts. Thank you, Kyle
We would be remised if we didn’t mention one of the biggest pieces to the puzzle, Kevin Currence. Kevin is a long time Foreman for BRS and has 10+ years of experience. Believe it or not a lot of that experience translated very well when Kevin started his first shift on April 8th. He was probably put in the most chaotic of all our operations, Elmhurst Hospital, at no fault of the hospital but simply because of the number of patients and unforeseen circumstances that would tie up precious time for frontline workers. While Kevin can’t check your blood pressure or administer an IV, Kevin can pick up a 200 pound medical machine who’s wheel just broke off and carry it to a patience room, clear out a room that was never intended to house hospital beds in minutes so that more patience can be admitted, and has the stamina to push hundreds of hospital gurneys to where they need to go in a 12 hour shift without breaking a sweat. Kevin has managed his crews and worked in conjunction with hospital facilities in phenomenal fashion since the day he started. He has truly risen to the occasion and I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but he has not taken a single day off since his first shift 23 days ago. Thank you, Kevin.
Two more heroes on our team are Luke Erhard (left) and Joe Brown (right). These two answered the call on April 8th. Again, these men, on a day’s notice decided to leave the comfort of their homes to go help fight like hell alongside our frontline medical workers in any and every way they could. They specifically have been working together on the same shift at the direction of the facilities and security department every single day. They have been complimented for their willingness to help in any situation asked of them, their professionalism, and their overall consistency in the workplace that so many times that I’m getting tired of hearing it. Both Luke and Joe started their 12-hour shifts April 8th and, you guessed it, have not taken a single day off since. Thank you, Luke. Thank You, Joe.
Next up we have Damon Anderson and Brian Ostrander. Two professional young men that also answered the call when they were needed most at one of St Joseph’s Hospitals in Wayne NJ. These two started April 8th and can you guess what I’m about to say next? Both Damon and Brian have not missed a single 12-hour shift since the day they began. These two men have in particular have been very helpful to keeping the schedule consistent and have been monumental in helping the frontline responders during their shifts. At this this point couldn’t handle every single shift needed of us but with these guys continuing to work every day we were almost there. Thank you, Damon, Thank you, Brian.
Next we have Garett Murnan, Christopher Ray and Kiel Anderson. Garett has been working at ground zero of the pandemic since April 10th, Chris Ray has been working at St. Josephs since April 8th and Kiel like his brother Damon, has been absolutely key to us filling out our daily roster by being flexible and covering shifts at Queens Hospital, St Joseph’s Hospitals in Wayne and Patterson NJ, Harlem Hospital, Elmhurst, and others. You name it Kiel has been there helping and hasn’t stopped since the day he started April 10th. Thank you, Garett, Thank you, Chris, Thank you Kiel.
Another few very honorable mentions go to Mike Walker one of BRS finest and most respected employees who managed the first hospital shift at Harlem Hospital and as a someone who was there that day, I was able to see Mike restore order to a chaotic situation. Another very honorable mention goes to Matthew Schonfeld, who when we were short staffed volunteered to work a ridiculous 36-hours straight by working 3 straight 12 hour shifts. Also Michael Barna recently stepped in to help the graveyard shift at St. Josephs. Vincent Incorvaia who has been transporting supplies at Queens Hospital since April 9th without a day off since and Joshua Avila who has been working wherever he is needed everyday whether that be Jacobi Medical Center, Queens Hospital, Harlem Hospital or wherever else he is needed. Dylan Carey, who juggles his classes with picking up hospital shifts whenever he can. Thank you all.
In times of struggle and panic it is human nature to want to keep yourself safe, but in the same breath it is human nature to want to help others in need. These displays of heroism remind me of a quote about persistence. “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” -Calvin Coolidge. That persistence has manifested itself in so many ways over the last month and a half with countless men working 20+ shifts in a row without taking a single day off, regularly helping in every and anyway possible and helping restore some normalcy to one of the worst disasters we’ve seen in our lifetimes.
As the pandemic continues, I am happy to say that today is our crews last shift at Queens Hospital and I’m happy to say that because we are no longer needed. Their staff has now gotten control of the situation. This by no means says that the pandemic is over, but we are happy to see that the ridiculous amount of initial stress the hospital had seen on their staff and operations has been significantly alleviated by our heroes. This is highlighted in a message of gratitude sent to us by a Queens Hospital director “On behalf of my facility I would like to personally thank you and your company for working with us and stepping out of your comfort zone when I presented you with the request. Your staff were very professional and a great asset to our facility while embracing a crucial role during this pandemic.”
I want to finish this story that is not yet over by reiterating how proud we of our men. From what started as a desperate phone call for help, became a beautiful story of so many people who decided to leave the comfort of their own homes to go out and sacrifice their safety to help others.
When all is said and done, we will all have stories to tell about our experiences during the pandemic and we appreciate you taking the time to read about our story on how a group of brave movers answered the call and became heroes.