Saturday, June 24, 2006

Fire Assistance

10/1 A letter written by a FEMA worker - emailed to me by Gary:

Last year I was detailed from my regular job to work for FEMA. After a brief stint in Jackson, I was assigned to the Public Assistance group in the Biloxi Field office at the Imperial Palace. My specific assingment was to document the claims for the Hancock County fire departments. I met with each of the volunteer fire departmetns and discussed the claims process and had them begin to docuament thier claims.

Unfortunately due to the lack of time it took to document losses to a fire departmetn when in many cases there was no information left and my assignment being brief I was only able to complete the process for one of the fire departments, before having to return home.

I have maintained contact with the fire departments in Hancock County and returned as recently as July. I just spoke with one of the fire departments. They have had to go over and over their losses numerouis times with FEMA and FEMA still demands more paperwork but will not say what happened to previous paper work. Insted of processing project practically every new group feels the need to redo the old paper work.

FEMA wants to replace fire equipment with " like kind". This means that insted of helping fire departments get safe equipment that meets modern standsards, they would replace old equipment with a modle made that same year even though that design has now been found to have safety hazards such as open cab areas and no seat belts. These designs are lawyer fodder. If an accident were to happen it is likely that a lawyer would show that the apparattus had flaws and the fire department therefore operated negligently.

Wtih the damage to the economies in Hancock County the fire departments will have scarcely any tax millage income for severla years. They struggle to meet high volumes of calls for service but have no means of condcuting preventive maintenance or repairs.

FEMA public assistance money could help the fire departments rebuild and enable them to maintain fire protection in communities that were just about wiped out.

How are communities going to rebuild if the fire departments are required to operate substandard equipment? How long will it take before insurance rates go through the roof and unaffordable?

The Sun Herald has run articles about fire protection in other communites but very little has been said about Hancock County. Although I have no way of knowing, I suspect that the conditions in Hancock are mirrored all across the coast.

I've been in major contact with a gentleman - Gary McGinnis - who is coming to Hancock County specifically to assist the volunteer fire departments. During our discussions, he may have modified his stance a bit, considering how few volunteers are left in the area at this time.
Now, the following is edited only because I'm guessing it wasn't meant for public consumption. I've taken out references that would allow a ready to identify the writer. But it's from a fire fighter in S.MS:

I've been reading the e-mails/'re correct, there's money for law enforcement, libraries, schools, etc (all of course are in need), but as always none for the fire least, not that I'm aware of.
If I understand correctly, most of the vol. depts in the area are nearly non-existent. They each have only a couple of members at best...I'm sure that is in part due to the housing shortage in the area. People can't live where they don't have housing, or can't take a job if you don't have a place to it goes.

The paid departments are struggling with city budgets that can only support the bare necessities. In our case, we have a couple of new guys that we cannot send to the fire academy at this time ($$), nor can we afford to send people off for training if there is any cost involved. We've used donated money to purchase uniforms (most of our people lost all of their clothing), and we've had FEMA funds and insurance money to replace some equipment. We limit running the trucks (something we used to do daily) to twice a week, other than emergencies of course, to try to conserve fuel costs. We've been going to the few Distribution Centers that are left to get garbage bags, paper towels and toilet paper...things we could buy if we really had to, but we use the donated items as much as possible. We try to save $$ any way we can, and not having to buy all of those "little things" adds up.
When I'm asked what we need now, I feel the greatest need is for someone to step in for the long haul with financial assistance to the fire service/cities. The survival of the cities - I should say financial stability, not just "survival" - is as great a need as any, no question.
Certainly, meeting someone with "connections" to anyone that could help with long-term financial assistance would be ideal.
Thanks again for all of your help.

He's also been in contact with a gentleman from the International Association of Fire Chiefs - Bill Killen - who is touring through the area. He is staring in the NOLA region, and then traveling East on his way to the South East Division Conference which I believe is being held in Biloxi. A quote from him:

"I leave for New Orleans Saturday morning. I am scheduled to meet with Chief Charles Parent, NOFD and Chief Tom Stone, St Bernard's Parish FD Monday and Tuesday. I plan on visiting fire departments in Mississippi on my way to the Southeastern Division conference. Things are more than bleak in the Katrina impact area, they are disgustingly sickening. I don't know what I can do, but I hope to document the situation and hopefully bring things to further light to the fire service and our fire service friends around the country."

I have passed along this information to all I thought might have contact with any and all fire chiefs in the area. While I don't believe he has a set schedule, I do know he will be making his presence known.

I have been told his tour will be well documented and should reach TV and magazines in a relatively short period of time. I will keep you posted on this as I get word.

Once in awhile, things seem to be timed perfectly!

Look for both Gary and Mr. Killen in the very near future!


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