9/12/2005

Bravest in New Orleans, Elsewhere in 'Bad Shape' - Firehouse.com Hurricane Katrina

Major Stockpile Unused, Reports of Fire Stations Wiped Out, On and Off Duty Firefighters Missing

New Orleans firefighters watch as a sandwich shop goes up in flames on Friday, Sept. 2, 2005, in New Orleans. The flames couldn't be doused with water because there was no water pressure

FIREHOUSE.COM NEWS

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin in a Sunday morning CNN interview, said his priority today was to get assistance to the many traumatized firemen and policemen in the city. He said many were in need of mental and physical medical treatment and said there had already been several suicides. He did not say if the suicides were policemen or firemen although the New York Times newspaper reported two police officers had taken their own lives.

He praised them as holding the city together this last week but said they had suffered for it. He was looking to get them reunited with their families and out of the city but was not sure where he could send them saying he was fighting red tape with FEMA to get money for that purpose. "Screw it", he said. "I will pay for it myself".

Firefighters in New Orleans, lacking water, manpower and resources, continued to battle blazes and respond to emergecies as best possible as the weekend begins.

On Saturday, images of some firefighters fighting a blaze at a shopping area on Canal Street in downtown New Orleans filled the airwaves, while a few miles away a warehouse burned significantly. CNN video showed the lone fire boat fighting the blaze leaving the area, possibly taking an injured firefighter for treatment.

CNN reported that the city had ten fire companies operating Saturday atthe Canal Street blaze. Some fire scenes were reported to be aided by water tankers from Mississippi as the water system in New Orleans itself was not useable for firefighting operations.

Also a report that has firefighters concerned, a CNN interview revealed that nine stockpiles of fire and rescue gear around the country had not been activated because it has not been requested, according to the Network.

The stockpile includes generators, radios, SCBA, sleeping gear and other items that is stored by the Department of Homeland Security to supply or replenish up to 150 first responders each. CNN reported that the three closest stockpiles were in Texas, South Carolina and Florida.

While DHS officials told CNN the gear wouldn't be of much help in the current situation, one former official disagreed.

"I think it's sad because you've got almost ... $20 million worth of gear that's ready to be distributed," Steve Beaumont, a retired contract manager for Homeland Security's Prepositioned Equipment Program, told CNN. "You've firefighters (in New Orleans) fighting fires in shorts. That tells me they're running out of stuff."

While it is still very early some firefighters suggested that as many as 75% of the New Orleans Fire Department's personnel have lost their homes.

Elsewhere, there are many reports of fire stations totally destroyed in many towns across Louisiana and Mississippi.

USAR teams from across the country are converging on many communities, but are facing a tedius task to get through debris, doing house-by-house searches and marking locations that are clear -- or that contain the dead. There were stories of success and sadness from the rescuers pouring into the area. [Rescuer Stories: Los Angeles - Indiana - Maryland]

In St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana Friday night, Fox News reported that firefighters and their families were being held hostage. Luckily, that turned out to be a rumor and the fire chief confirmed to local media that two firefighters had been airlifted to area hospitals after becoming ill, but there was in fact no sniper and the remaining firefighters and their families -- as well as dozens of local police officers -- were doing fine.

Firefighters across the country remain chomping at the bit to lend a hand. As FEMA added volunteer firefighters to the list of approved responders that are being requested to provide non-operational support, some expressed frustration that they were not able to be immediately called to the area.

The Calm Before the Storm

As winds hit 45 miles per hour shortly before Midnight Sunday before Katrina hit, the city's fire and EMS personnel initially stopped responding to all emergencies.

"Our primary concern this point is the safety of our personnel and equipment," Charlene Barthe, Public Affairs Coordinator for the New Orleans Fire Department, told Firehouse.com late Sunday.

The city's firefighters were initially moved from fire stations before the storm hit to more secure buildings in their primary response districts. Apparatus was moved to higher ground, including the upper floors of parking garages in the city in hopes the units would be protected from the most severe conditions.

In New Orleans, the fire department provides fire and first responder services, while the health department is responsible for emergency medical response.

The New Orleans Fire Department has 33 stations with 759 personnel.

Updated: Bravest in New Orleans, Elsewhere in 'Bad Shape' - Firehouse.com Hurricane Katrina

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