As , most South Brunswick residents are hunkered down to ride out the storm in the hopeful safety of their homes. That is, except for a select few volunteers, who put their lives on the line to help the community they hold dear.
They are South Brunswick's guardian angels, the men and women of the township's volunteer rescue squads and fire departments, who risk life and limb as they head out into whatever conditions Mother Nature may throw at them to help their neighbors.
"You get nervous when conditions are bad, but person to person, when we signed up as volunteers we took on a responsibility to the people of this township," said Kendall Park First Aid and Rescue Squad Captain Ray Weis. "There are 40 different people on this squad, and there are probably 40 different reasons why we all signed up."
For Kendall Park Fire Chief Chris Perez, being a lifelong resident of the township drove him to get involved serving his community.
"Most of the members of my company have lived in South Brunswick most of their lives," he said. "It's just a sense of serving the community and helping people out. We get to be a part of something, that's what I find drives a lot of members."
During natural disasters such as blizzards or storms like Irene, the first responders of South Brunswick take on an added responsibility, beyond the precautions they must take for their own personal well being.
"I have to check my own home and make sure I do everything I can to prepare for the storm," said Monmouth Junction Fire Department Chief Brian Spahr. "After I make sure things are in order with my place, I begin to think about the township in terms of protection. All we can do is be prepared, and everything we do in training prepares us for storms like this."
In instances where weather may restrict travel, members of the different squads and departments head out to their various stations to begin an exhausting stretch where they could be on call for days at a time.
"It does get tiring, but that's what we're trained for," Perez said. "That's what a lot of the guys like to do. While it gets tiring, we learn a lot. For the most part everybody is good until it's all over, then we take a deep breath and get a good night's sleep."
With the high winds and heavy flooding from Hurricane Irene, the volunteers who serve are not immune to the dangers they may confront heading out into the storm.
"If what they're saying about this storm holds true, we're going to have tropical force winds that we haven't had in the past," Spahr said. "That's my biggest concern as we're driving through the roadways. We don't know if a tree is going to come crashing down and block the road. With all the rain we've had lately, that results in downed trees and downed power lines."
With the myriad problems being caused throughout the township by the storm, rescue squad crews stay on standby for 12 hours per shift before being relieved. However, state regulations forbid ambulances from heading out onto the road when winds are sustained at over 50 mph.
"I think we're all a little nervous about what the conditions are going to be," Weis said. "I'm a retired trucker, so I know how to handle driving in bad conditions. I worry more about the other people on my squad. I'm responsible for every person. I wish I could be everywhere, on every call, but I can't. I just hope people are prepared to shelter in their homes and realize if the storm gets too bad, we may not be able to respond for certain things. If the wind gets over 50 miles per hour, we're not supposed to roll the ambulance out."
On Friday, the volunteers of the fire departments and rescue squads spent time preparing for the worst case scenario. They checked their equipment, made sure all the generators are ready to go, stocked up on provisions and prepared themselves for the storm on the horizon.
"We're just standing by, waiting to see when the weather will start to turn bad," Perez said. "My biggest concern is my people's safety with trees going down and power lines falling because of the wind. Some of the (most frequent) calls we get are when water floods a basement. We have to go secure the utilities and electrical power so the houses don't catch fire."
For Spahr, Weis and Perez, the consensus worst storm they ever experienced during their service to South Brunswick was Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
"During Floyd we had a person who was driving into work at the Rocky Hill crossing on Route 518, and he didn't think the water was deep," Weis said. "He was about 100 feet out from dry land with water up to the windows of his car. We had to form a human chain to get to him and make sure nobody ended up washed into the canal or river. I just worry about the firefighters going out into that water. With their heavy equipment, they could get swept into that water and drown very easily."
For Perez, the damage wrought by Floyd loomed on his mind with the approach of Irene.
"I've lived in South Brunswick for my whole life, and when Floyd came through, I've never seen that amount of flooding before," he said. "The amount of standing water just amazed me. You see stuff like that on the news, but living here I never saw that. We haven't had anything that bad since Floyd, but from all indications Irene could be just as bad, or worse."
As the volunteers of South Brunswick prepare themselves for whatever Irene may bring, there's a simple reason why they do what they do for the town they live in and serve.
"It's just second nature, if you're interested in volunteering then that's where your commitment is," Spahr said. "It doesn't matter what it is, if we're called to help then that's what we do. Whether it's a fire, a vehicle rescue, or any other rescue. It just comes down to wanting to help people."