Firehouse Interview

Warren E. McDaniels Sr., superintendent of the New Orleans Fire Department, reviews his department's progress and looks toward the future.

Warren E. McDaniels Sr. was appointed to the New Orleans Fire Department in 1969. He has advanced through the ranks of the department, serving as apparatus operator, company officer, training captain, fire science instructor at Delgado Community College, chief of administration and assistant...

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Firehouse: Does the waterfront offer special problems?

McDaniels: Special operations, the waterfront, building collapse, hazardous materials and heavy rescue activities are all coordinated by the special operations chief. For weapons of mass destruction, auto extrication and train derailments, we keep our people on the cutting edge to respond effectively. Along the Mississippi River there are chemical plants and refineries. We have a lot of rail and highway traffic. Our units respond to quite a bit of hazardous materials incidents. We also have containers that can hold hazardous materials. We keep our engine and rescue personnel trained to the responder and technician level. All chiefs have hazardous materials incident command training.

Firehouse:When the department responded to the incident at Riverwalk in which the ship, the Brightfield, rammed the structure, did you send the first responders in?

McDaniels: Thirty rooms were wiped out in the hotel. We were lucky there were only a few injuries. The first responder program was to begin the next day. We dispatched units because of the potential for injury, but there weren't that many.

Photo by Captain Chris E. Mickal/NOFD Photo Unit
Chief McDaniels shows new apparatus to New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial.

Firehouse: You are hosting the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) annual convention in August. What does that mean to the city?

McDaniels: Not only the New Orleans Fire Department, but the Louisiana fire departments and chiefs are looking forward to the show. We have one of the largest convention centers and all the sights are within walking distance.

Firehouse: When the department prepares for Mardi Gras, do you have to make extra preparations?

McDaniels: We put extra units into service. The parades split the city in half. We place units on either side. We add first responder "sprint" units that are easier to get around in than apparatus. We divide up the French Quarter and add manpower.

Firehouse: With the large number of people crowded onto balconies during Mardi Gras, have there been any problems?

McDaniels: We have had a few incidents where they have collapsed. Inspectors have stepped up their efforts to determine the weight loads and talked to building owners.

The Mardi Gras goes for 10 days. Millions of people come to the city. Hundreds of millions of dollars go to the local economy. There are very few problems with crowd control. The police do an excellent job. It is mostly a family holiday. Most people only see the coverage from the French Quarter.

Photo by Captain Chris E. Mickal/NOFD Photo Unit
Chief McDaniels conducts an interview with a TV news reporter during an incident.

Firehouse: Is there a plan to build or renovate the fire stations?

McDaniels: In our capital program we are going to a three-bay concept, task force operation. In the past, we have lost some units. There are several new stations on the drawing board. We are also working on repairing and renovating existing stations.

Firehouse: Are you going to replace fire headquarters?

McDaniels: We have outgrown the headquarters, which was built in 1913. The museum is going well and we are adding artifacts and providing public education.

Firehouse: Is there a problem with vacant buildings in New Orleans?

McDaniels: There is a large number of vacant buildings. They are used by vagrants, mostly in the winter to keep warm. The danger is the exposures which are three to six feet apart. The city is working to tear down these buildings.

Firehouse: Many fire departments across the country are experiencing a large turnover due to pension buyouts and other incentives. Do you have this problem?

McDaniels: We had a large turnover a few years ago. It has stabilized. We are making promotions and filling vacancies as best as we can. At one time, we couldn't fill the vacancies and we had to hold back on those positions.

Firehouse: Are you providing additional training?