FEMA TEAM MEMBER and North Reading resident Joe Conlon (left) and Broco Oil driver John Smith worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Disaster Medical Assistance Team in the Florida Keys following Hurricane Irma. Employees of Broco Oil Company on Main Street in North Reading recently went to Florida to provide relief for victims of Hurricane Irma. Conlon, a Chelsea firefighter, also returned home recently. (Courtesy Photo)

Published in the October 3, 2017 edition.


NORTH READING — Is there any greater feeling in the world than making a positive impact on someone in need?

Ask Robert Brown, owner of Broco Oil on Main Street, and he will say “no.”

In recent weeks, the 2000 Wakefield Memorial High graduate put his belief into practice when FEMA asked him to help relief efforts in Florida after Hurricane Irma struck the Florida Keys on Sunday, Sept. 10. He answered the call by sending six trucks — two gasoline and four diesel — and six men, one for each truck, to help victims who were hospitalized, in nursing homes or other medical facilities.

The workers kept electricity flowing so critical life-saving machines like oxygen tanks kept flowing inside hospitals. Brown supplied emergency response equipment with the fuel needed to complete missions. They served priority facilities like hospitals and nursing homes with lights, air conditioning, oxygen and monitors.

“When the power is off, everything shuts down,” said Brown. “Our trucks fuel these things with hoses, nozzles and fittings similar to a gas station pump,” he said. “As a veteran and a firefighter, my livelihood is rooted in helping the community.”

The company, which employs between 20 and 25 people, is now celebrating its 10th year and has a growing reputation for being a business committed to the betterment of the community.

In fact, ask Farrah, Brown’s 4-year-old daughter, what he does for work, and she will always answer that “he helps people.”

After arriving in Florida, Broco Oil employees worked in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and the Florida Keys, which were hit the hardest.

“There was no electricity anywhere,” said Brown. “Homes and whole areas were destroyed. Boats were in the streets and sand covered the roadways.”

The men slept on top of tanker trucks and lived off military MREs (meals ready to eat) for nourishment. “They went above and beyond the call of duty,” said Brown.

The men from Broco Oil arrived home at the end of last week, and their boss is planning to take them out to dinner to honor their hard work and commitment to the relief efforts. They had a few days off before returning to work.

“They’ve suffered a lack of sleep and extremely hard work and have put in long hours,” said Brown.

To illustrate, while in the Keys, the men slept in tents in camp posts with mosquito nets covering them to protect from bites.

Brown’s affinity for helping those in need is rooted in his family’s humanitarian efforts. As an example, his grandfather John Brown was given the Bronze Medal during World War II when he served in the U.S. Army.

Brown also served in the military, serving with the Seabees in Gulfport, Mississippi until 2005. He left the military in August that year, one week before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

Aside from Hurricane Irma and working for Habitat for Humanity around 2005, this was Brown’s first emergency response for FEMA.

“After Katrina, FEMA has become more proactive and organized,” Brown said. “Placing supplies and resources prior to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma enabled FEMA to dispatch fuel trucks directly to the priority facilities that lost power,” he said. “With some generators on a four- to five-hour run time, having fuel trucks ready to go provided zero downtime to hospitals and shelters.

“Bad things do happen in the world — like war, natural disasters and disease — but out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” said Brown, borrowing a quote from former CNN news anchor Daryn Kagan.

Before transferring to the city of Chelsea as a firefighter, Brown worked for the Wakefield Fire Department. He is now a captain in Chelsea’s fire department and makes his home in Lynnfield with his wife Angela and daughter Farrah. The couple work as a team, with Angela serving as office and operations manager. Brown was born in Wakefield and graduated from Wakefield Memorial High School in 2000. Angela also grew up in Wakefield and graduated from Bishop Fenwick High School the same year.

If Brown is called on again to provide relief help after a natural disaster, he said he absolutely would step up to the plate.

He said: “We are always willing and ready to respond to any situation that requires our fuel trucks and manpower no matter where the help is needed.”

Currently, Puerto Rico and several of the Caribbean islands have been completely devastated by the hurricanes and need help the most.

Donations may be made to Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan for the British Virgin Islands at https: www.virgin.com/unit/bvi-community-support-appeal or also Direct Relief at https://www.directrelief.org/.