hit it til it breaks

frustrated and in a rage after the last election, I decided that rather than leaving the country or refusing to speak to my Southern family, I was going to talk until their ears turned blue. I gathered up every family email address I could find, and I sent them a nice introductory letter and proceeded to bombard them almost daily with all manner of progressive/liberal/informative articles/cartoons/columns/whatever. This is the poorly updated archive of my exchanges with them.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

frustrated: fire crews to hand out fliers for FEMA

I wish this were made up. don't miss the last paragraph.

(this article can be seen in its original form at: http://www.sltrib.com/utah/ci_3004197 )

Frustrated: Fire crews to hand out fliers for FEMA
By Lisa Rosetta
The Salt Lake Tribune

Firefighters endure a day of FEMA training, which included a course on sexual harassment. Some firefighters say their skills are being wasted. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune)

ATLANTA - Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down for eight hours of training, the whispering began: "What are we doing here?"
As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta.
Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.
Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.
On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.
Federal officials are unapologetic.
"I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak.
The firefighters - or at least the fire chiefs who assigned them to come to Atlanta - knew what the assignment would be, Hudak said.
"The initial call to action very specifically says we're looking for two-person fire teams to do community relations," she said. "So if there is a breakdown [in communication], it was likely in their own departments."
One fire chief from Texas agreed that the call was clear to work as community-relations officers. But he wonders why the 1,400 firefighters FEMA attracted to Atlanta aren't being put to better use. He also questioned why the U.S. Department of Homeland Security - of which FEMA is a part - has not responded better to the disaster.
The firefighters, several of whom are from Utah, were told to bring backpacks, sleeping bags, first-aid kits and Meals Ready to Eat. They were told to prepare for "austere conditions." Many of them came with awkward fire gear and expected to wade in floodwaters, sift through rubble and save lives.
"They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified," said a Texas firefighter. "We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."
The firefighter, who has encouraged his superiors back home not to send any more volunteers for now, declined to give his name because FEMA has warned them not to talk to reporters.
On Monday, two firefighters from South Jordan and two from Layton headed for San Antonio to help hurricane evacuees there. Four firefighters from Roy awaited their marching orders, crossing their fingers that they would get to do rescue and recovery work, rather than paperwork.
"A lot of people are bickering because there are rumors they'll just be handing out fliers," said Roy firefighter Logan Layne, adding that his squad hopes to be in the thick of the action. "But we'll do anything. We'll do whatever



they need us to do."
While FEMA's community-relations job may be an important one - displaced hurricane victims need basic services and a variety of resources - it may be a job best suited for someone else, say firefighters assembled at the Sheraton.
"It's a misallocation of resources. Completely," said the Texas firefighter.
"It's just an under-utilization of very talented people," said South Salt Lake Fire Chief Steve Foote, who sent a team of firefighters to Atlanta. "I was hoping once they saw the level of people . . . they would shift gears a little bit."
Foote said his crews would be better used doing the jobs they are trained to do.
But Louis H. Botta, a coordinating officer for FEMA, said sending out firefighters on community relations makes sense. They already have had background checks and meet the qualifications to be sworn as a federal employee. They have medical training that will prove invaluable as they come across hurricane victims in the field.
A firefighter from California said he feels ill prepared to even carry out the job FEMA has assigned him. In the field, Hurricane Katrina victims will approach him with questions about everything from insurance claims to financial assistance.
"My only answer to them is, '1-800-621-FEMA,' " he said. "I'm not used to not being in the know."
Roy Fire Chief Jon Ritchie said his crews would be a "little frustrated" if they were assigned to hand out phone numbers at an evacuee center in Texas rather than find and treat victims of the disaster.
Also of concern to some of the firefighters is the cost borne by their municipalities in the wake of their absence. Cities are picking up the tab to fill the firefighters' vacancies while they work 30 days for the federal government.
"There are all of these guys with all of this training and we're sending them out to hand out a phone number," an Oregon firefighter said. "They [the hurricane victims] are screaming for help and this day [of FEMA training] was a waste."
Firefighters say they want to brave the heat, the debris-littered roads, the poisonous cottonmouth snakes and fire ants and travel into pockets of Louisiana where many people have yet to receive emergency aid.
But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.


At 3:14 PM, Blogger d. earl griffin said...

D-, I’m afraid this is all going to be much worse than even the worst predictors are saying on TV now…I finally got through to one of my customers down in Louisiana above New Orleans…he’s a retired local politician…he told me the death toll in New Orleans is going to make 911 seem small…he talked to a lawyer that was in New Orleans at a hospital (I think) when the hurricane went through…first they lost power and then the generators ran out of power or were flooded out so everyone in the hospital on a ventilator died – that was about 200 deaths right there…then, he said across the street from him was a middle school that had 1500 people in it as a shelter from the hurricane – that building went under 20 feet of water when the levee broke and most of those perished…then an apartment building was across the way and they saw people with flashlights blinking out sos through the night…finally someone shot a flare gun that hit a gas main and the whole building went up – they estimated 500 more were lost there…that’s just 3 instances…and that’s not including anything from Mississippi…remember Gulfport?…grand isle is gone he said…a lot of places he said he’s had a lot of fun were no more…

The NY guys went down and they said they saw a lot of damage in Laurel and below…lots of pine trees centering cars…the police they encountered were exhausted…lots of vacant stares from the officers…people’s tempers were short…while they were at one store, there was a small fender bender about 20 feet away…one guy just barely bumped another guy…the guy who got hit jumps out, and just starts pummeling the guy who bumped into him…that got them a little un-nerved…they really got their eyes opened to what was happening down there…and this was still 100 miles from the coast…they are deeper in today and having some success with their quest to sell some generators to those who need them…but they were heading to aunt **’s tonight to camp out in friendly territory…

My two cents worth on the blame situation is that there was poor leadership up and down the line…finally they were able to realize it and get the right people in the right places…I’m sure more of that type of shaking out will keep occurring as this situation moves forward…the big thing also, is the whole logistics of moving 50,000 people in less than a day is overwhelming to anyone who attempts it, I’m sure, especially with water in the streets, people shooting at your buses, no clear routes in, and just marshalling the resources together…where do you get that many buses?...where do you get that many drivers…where do you tell them to go?...how do you get the people on there?...where do you take them…etc…even with a clear plan, it would take time to implement…ain’t nothing easy to do in that situation…it seems easy to us on the sideline…but to actually accomplish some help isn’t easy…just like it seemed easy to do to the NY guys..they are finding that on the ground, it’s hard to do – find where these generators are needed…if people want them…get them connected up with the right people…get refueled once they get down there…find a friendly place to stay…many officers recommended them to get out of the area by dark because of lawlessness in that area…they spent the first night with an armed guard and then drove back up here the next night…

Btw, I recommend to your brother to go join the red cross today…offer his services…maybe they will put him to work somewhere…


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