Written by Betsy Abraham Friday, 17 May 2013 00:00
John Romandetti saved six people, but he shies away from the title hero.
“I don’t think of myself as a hero,” Romandetti says. “It’s nothing anyone else wouldn’t have done.”
During Hurricane Sandy, Romandetti risked his own life to go out to Howard Beach and get his girlfriend’s family out of their flooding homes. The Bethpage Air Show recently recognized his bravery, naming him the grand prize winner of the Hurricane Sandy Community Heroes contest. Romandetti, along with nine other winners, will receive VIP tickets to the Bethpage Air Show, plus the reception, and GEICO Skytypers Planeside Meet and Greet. As the grand prize winner, Romandetti also gets the chance to fly with the GEICO Skytypers during next week’s airshow.
“I don’t feel I deserve to win, there’s thousands of people who did what I did,” Romandetti says. “Everyone’s just looking out for everyone.”
Romandetti was nominated by his girlfriend, Nicole Cunningham, also a Westbury resident. During the storm back in November, the couple, along with some friends and neighbors, gathered at Cunningham’s house, as it was one of the last ones on the block with power. While their friends were downstairs, Cunningham was upstairs on the phone with her family in Howard Beach, Queens. Though it had not been designated an evacuation zone, the high tide was quickly wrecking havoc on Cunningham’s parents’ high ranch home.
Eight feet of water flooded the basement and started creeping up to the top floor and outside; cars were floating down the street. The smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector were going off, and no one could get through to 911.
The situation went from bad to worse when Cunningham’s mother began saying tearful goodbyes.
“Once my parents called to say goodbye, I was like ‘they really think they’re going to die in their own house,’” Cunningham said. “We expected a little water, and they were prepared, they never thought it would come up to the first floor of their home. It all happened so fast, it was unimaginable.”
At that moment, Romandetti, who had been giving the family advice over the phone, jumped into high gear. He ran down to the garage and filled a backpack with a flashlight, tools, knife, a change of clothes, rope and other supplies.
It was around 10 p.m. when Romandetti headed toward Howard Beach in Cunningham’s Pathfinder, sometimes driving on the wrong side of the Meadowbrook Parkway and Belt Parkway to avoid fallen trees and closed roads.
His first stop was Cunningham’s brother’s house. When Romandetti opened the door to one of the cars, it immediately burst into flames.
Thankfully, no one was injured, and Romandetti and Cunningham’s brother were able to quickly push it into the street, to avoid the fire spreading to any surrounding houses, and then put it out with a fire extinguisher. He drove the family of four to safety, and then headed back to get Cunningham’s parents. The tide had receded, so Romandetti was able to park a few blocks away. He waded through the flooded streets to get the elderly couple out of the house and safely into the truck, taking them to another family member’s nearby apartment. He then checked on Cunningham’s aunt, who lived alone, to make sure she was safe.
In the days following the storm, Romandetti’s job as a supervisor at NYC Sanitation had him working around the clock with clean up efforts in Rockaway Beach. He also repeatedly went back to Howard Beach, helping Cunningham’s family pump water out of their homes and assisting them in gutting and cleaning out their houses.
Romandetti has no military or rescue experience, and says he didn’t do anything special.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” Romandetti says. “I didn’t really think about it, I just did it. They were scared, they were older, so I felt someone had to do something. You gotta take care of family.”
However, Cunningham says that Romandetti is more than a hero.
“My entire family truly believes John was their angel that night,” Cunningham said. “He put his life in danger to help save my family and to us, he will always be our hero. Not many people would leave their safe place and head to an area that was clearly devastated. In his mind, he said there wasn’t a moment of hesitation. We are all very thankful.”