1. #1
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    Thumbs down FEMA Reverses Long Standing Policy

    FEMA abandons payments to police, fire agencies for storm costs

    By Peter Franceschina
    Staff Writer
    Posted March 9 2005

    A change in federal emergency management policy could leave taxpayers across Florida picking up the bills for police and firefighters who covered for colleagues sent to help communities hit by last summer's four hurricanes, leaving some fire chiefs questioning whether they will provide the same aid in the next disaster.

    The Florida Fire Chiefs' Association says the reversal of a longstanding policy to reimburse their agencies for fill-in personnel could leave county and city taxpayers across the state paying more than $1 million in costs that used to be covered by the federal government.

    The change applies to all law enforcement and fire departments across the country that respond to disasters outside their coverage areas, said James McIntyre, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    The agency issued a policy directive Sept. 22 saying that payments for police and firefighters who filled in for personnel sent to other parts of the state are no longer covered, McIntyre said.

    The directive made the change retroactive to Aug. 11, when the first of four hurricanes, Charley, was bearing down on Florida.

    "We committed a huge number of expensive resources to help mitigate these tragic storms," Hillsborough County Fire Chief William Nesmith, president of the chiefs' association, said in a statement. "We followed the FEMA guidelines that were in place at the time, understanding that we would get reimbursed. Now they've changed the rules, after the fact. They've literally pulled the rug out from underneath us."

    Randall Napoli, director of the Division of State Fire Marshal, said the reversal could cause some agencies to decide not to send first-responders to other counties.

    "If FEMA stays with this policy, it's going to seriously hinder Florida's and other states' ability to respond to emergencies," he said. "What we are trying to do is get FEMA to change that policy. I think some bureaucrat in FEMA put that together and it was not reviewed by top FEMA people. It's some bean counter in the chain trying to save money."

    FEMA still will reimburse for the pay, food, travel and lodging of first-responders, McIntyre said. The new policy also expands coverage to mutual-aid agreements that are not in writing but don't specifically include reimbursement rates or those put into effect after a disaster.

    The agreements are typically between fire departments and law enforcement agencies that pledge to help one another during a disaster.

    The Florida Division of Emergency Management is talking to FEMA officials about the reimbursements, spokesman Mike Stone said.

    Joel Gordon, a spokesman for the chiefs' association, said a statewide cost for fill-in personnel hasn't been determined.

    "I would guess we are talking in the millions," he said. "They have made the changes, and we will live with them in the future, but the problem is they made the changes retroactive in what was the most costliest event in Florida history. They left us holding the empty bag."

    The amount of reimbursement being sought varies by department. Broward County fire officials didn't apply for that type of reimbursement, spokeswoman Cheryl Stopnick said. Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue had minimal fill-in costs with just a few first-responders sent out, spokesman Capt. Don DeLucia said.

    Other departments around the state may take a large hit. Hillsborough County has about $350,000 in hurricane costs, with $98,000 for fill-in personnel, said Ron Rogers, chief of special operations. He said he was upset the change was retroactive.

    "That was really the kind of dirty pool part of it," he said. "The question I have is, at what level of the government did they make that decision? They really don't understand all the ramifications."

    He said that departments large and small will have to reconsider whether they will provide mutual aid.

    "Small places are not going to be able to do this. They can't afford it," Rogers said. "And larger jurisdictions are going to have to ask themselves whether they want to afford it and whether they want to eat costs that have historically been covered by the federal government."

    Deerfield Beach Fire-Rescue Division Chief Jim Mathie said he did not know whether his agency sought reimbursements, but he said he hopes FEMA decides to pay agencies back for those expenses.

    "People would be looking at not just reimbursement of the time for the guys who were there, which is a no-brainer, but also covering the back end. We've got to cover those positions in overtime to let those guys go. It's a double whammy for us," he said.

    Pompano Beach Fire-Rescue Chief Harry Small said he received permission from city officials to send help to the areas hit by the hurricanes, even though he was not sure how much the city would be reimbursed, and he still thinks his city did the right thing.

    Miramar may cut back on how many firefighters it sends to other stricken areas in light of the FEMA cuts, city manager Robert Payton said.

    Staff Writers Shannon O'Boye and Robert Nolin contributed to this report.

    Peter Franceschina can be reached at pfranceschina@ sun-sentinel.com or 561-832-2894.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  2. #2
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    Thumbs up Revised

    FEMA To Cover Backfill Expenses
    By CHERYL N. SCHMIDT cschmidt@tampatrib.com
    Published: Mar 12, 2005


    LAKELAND - The nation's top fire administrator didn't waste time this week when he heard Florida fire chiefs were upset over what they saw as a change in reimbursement policies at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
    R. David Paulison, administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of FEMA, sent a letter to all U.S. fire chiefs Thursday saying overtime pay for ``backfill'' employees will be reimbursed for the hurricanes of 2004 and any other declared disasters.

    When local public agencies send employees to other jurisdictions to help during emergencies, they bring in replacement workers to fill in. The hours they work, regular and overtime, are known as backfill.

    A FEMA public assistance policy revised in September clearly states that ``backfill costs'' are not eligible for reimbursement.

    This had Hillsborough County Fire Chief Bill Nesmith, who also is president of the Florida Fire Chiefs' Association, and other chiefs statewide concerned about how it would affect their budgets and mutual aid agreements.

    If agencies couldn't be reimbursed for overtime costs, they might be reluctant to help one another, the chiefs said.

    On Friday, Nesmith said he thinks progress has been made to rectify the situation and commended Paulison for his involvement. He still would like to see written revisions to the FEMA policy.

    ``We're over the hump right now, but I'm talking about later on down the line. We need to have something in written form,'' Nesmith said.

    FEMA spokesman James McIntyre said Friday, ``If it calls for a revision, then I'm sure that's what FEMA would do.''

    McIntyre had called the problem a misconception by fire officials and the media and had said the policy on backfill had not changed.

    ``If they want to say we were misinformed, that's OK,'' said Larry Alexander, Polk County's public safety director. ``But we were misinformed by FEMA.''

    Alexander and Nesmith said covering the overtime for backfill employees should take care of their concerns.

    Nesmith said Hillsborough's backfill costs were $98,000, and that all was overtime work. It never billed FEMA for regular shifts of fill-in employees.

    ``The intent is not for a city or county to make money on a disaster,'' Nesmith said.

    They expect to have the normal daily staffing expenses of running their departments, he said.

    ``As long as we're made whole and don't lose any money, that's our real interest'' in seeking federal reimbursement.


    Reporter Cheryl N. Schmidt can be reached at (863) 683-6531.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  3. #3
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    So what exactly has changed..? I mean I am not involved in any way with the florida hurrican incidents. I do live in ohio though...so we run the spectrum from tornadoes to floods to plagues of locusts. Does this mean that when I leave my job will I get paid, or do I go for free, do I have to pay my way there, do I have to pay for my living expenses, and does my home department have to work with less because overtime isn't covered. I also wonder what brought this on. One thing that did come to mind while reading the first article...which is gonna sound a bit off the wall but it has merit. How much total did florida's hurricane season cost the federal government? How much money did we spend outside our country to help other countries with disasters (like the tsunami). I am not trying to say that the tsunami wasn't a disaster that needed our support...but I am saying that we should take care of our people at home, if we can then we can support the rest of the world. BUT...if the federal government can't help americans with disasters...thats a shame...Good luck with this in florida

  4. #4
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    As I understand it, during a disaster that requires the activation of USAR teams and special funded FEMA teams, the Feds would not only pick up the salary of those folks when they hit the road, they would also pay back fill salaries for those that took their place.

    During the 2004 hurricane season a lot of departments and counties (mine included) put together strike teams and deployed them (at the request of Florida Government) to different areas where they stayed for weeks at a time in some cases. This was in addition to the USAR teams from Metro Dade and Hillsborough County. This massive mobilization left coverage on the home front sparse and required overtime to cover. For example, I had one week with 104 hours of overtime.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  5. #5
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    Thumbs up That was a miscommunication.

    Release Date: March 11, 2005

    Open Letter to U.S. Fire Chiefs

    Recently, there has been some misinformation in the press regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Public Assistance Policy 9523.6, aimed at specifying criteria by which FEMA recognizes the eligibility of costs under the Public Assistance Program incurred
    through mutual aid agreements between applicants and other entities.

    The design of the modified mutual aid policy enabled FEMA to increase
    its support for mutual aid compacts and those emergency personnel who
    respond under these agreements. As many of you will recall, the old FEMA policy did not allow for any reimbursement when a mutual aid agreement was not already in place at the time of the disaster or fire. Recognizing the burden this placed on those communities that may not have had a written agreement, but choose to answer the call for help regardless, FEMA chose to stand behind our nation's first responders with the support that they deserve.

    To alleviate the burden, on September 22, 2004, FEMA changed the policy to allow for the reimbursement of the eligible costs of mutual aid where no pre-disaster, written mutual aid agreement exists. To further aid our nation's first responders, the policy was made retroactive to August 11, 2004 to ensure that communities would be covered for immediate needs of the hurricane season in affected states

    While the new policy made needed changes to support responses under
    mutual aid agreements, it left one important item unchanged. FEMA always has and continues to recognize overtime, including overtime incurred as the result of backfilling a position vacated by a first responder answering a mutual aid call.

    In the policy, FEMA recognizes "backfill costs" as the "regular pay" of workers performing duties for a regular salary whether or not a disaster occurred. When a community incurs "backfill overtime costs" in order to meet the needs of assisting other communities during times of disasters, those costs are eligible, and have been since 1993.

    On behalf of FEMA, I know we are all proud to work with you in
    continuing our tradition of responding to help disaster victims and those in need whenever disasters or emergencies strike. Thank you for your ongoing role in bettering our disaster preparation and response.

    Sincerely,
    R. David Paulison
    Administrator, U.S. Fire Administration
    "When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for my having been there."
    -- Jim Henson (1936 - 1990)

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