Deputy Chiefs Richard Hampton and Tim McConnell of the New Orleans Fire Department provide an account of the strategic and tactical considerations faced by incident commanders before, during and after Hurricane Katrina struck the city. The interview was conducted by Firehouse Magazine...
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At the nursing home staging area, a huge kitchen was able to feed 450 people. Several firefighters were preparing meals for other firefighters. At the end of operations, almost 800 people a day were being fed.
We needed fuel for the rigs and had to fight to get it every day. We had to beg, borrow and plead for fuel. We contacted one person who delivered tanks of fuel. Every 12 hours, we needed 1,000 gallons of diesel and 1,000 gallons of gasoline. We located 50-gallon water tanks and used them to siphon fuel. One of the lessons learned was to get fuel from outside of the city.
Every day, we needed fuel, food, water, cooks, maintenance crews, garbage disposal, windshield repair, tire replacement and tire repair. Mechanics were needed to keep generators running. Radio and flashlight batteries needed to be charged. Louisiana State University Fire Service Training brought a trailer and portable cascade unit to refill SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) cylinders.
One utility needed to keep its chiller units filled when city water was lost. We responded with 10 pumpers to shuttle water to the system. Eventually, several large tractor-trailer tankers responded. Because much of the city had no water in the hydrant system, additional tankers were requested. Fireboats from the port were used at different locations, so units would not have to cross over the Mississippi River to fill up and lose valuable time in the long drive.
When units returned to the staging area, decontamination stations were set up. All units and personnel had to pass through these stations. A vendor arrived and cleaned gear.
Some amount of flood waters entered 22 of the city's 33 fire stations; some had up to 15 feet of water. Some had to be gutted and deconned.
There was a minimum of equipment in the stations. Intruders looted one station twice after it was cleaned up. Some stations will have to be torn down. Some will require major renovation. Evaluations are being conducted. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) regulations require a new station if the cost is more than 50% of the cost to rehab the station.
The city had a hurricane plan similar to many Gulf Coast and southeastern U.S. cities. Fire station equipment was to be elevated. Hospitals and nursing homes were pre-planned. Units had a place of last refuge to respond to during the storm. One unit returned after the storm went by and replaced its radios, equipment, etc. When the levee broke, flood waters rose inside the station. No apparatus were lost during the storm. Following the flooding, apparatus drove through flood waters. Because of the saltwater, rigs are being checked out daily. Some serious electric problems have developed so far.
Since the storm, 12 firefighters have resigned. Some were young and only had a few years of service. Their families have relocated and they were on the bottom of the pay scale. Some senior members say they're going to retire.
To house firefighters at damaged stations, numerous trailers have been ordered. While repairs are made, firefighters will have to live in these trailers placed at the rear of the fire stations.
Another lesson learned was to implement our own Incident Management Team. Flooding caused a lot of corrosion to fire hydrants. Each day, units responded to a certain city ZIP code to check pressure in fire hydrants. Many trees were uprooted by high winds and these caused damage to water mains. The flooding caused many gas leaks when houses were moved from their foundations. Gas shutoffs were under water. The gas company eventually had to shut off the gas to each house.