FEMA begins to pay storm overtime
Across state, crews came to the rescue
By Peter Franceschina
Posted May 15 2005
With four hurricanes striking the Sunshine State in six weeks last summer, Florida's firefighters faced an unprecedented task, rushing personnel and equipment from disaster to disaster.
As Hurricane Charley was making landfall on the southwest coast the evening of Friday, Aug. 13, rescue crews from South Florida were heading across Alligator Alley toward ground zero. The deployments would be repeated three more times -- more than 1,200 firefighters, 130 engines and 134 ambulances staffed with paramedics left their home stations around the state to help where they were needed.
The cost, for overtime and equipment, ran into the millions of dollars. Broward and Palm Beach counties had more than $10 million in costs for firefighters and law enforcement, and that doesn't include the costs to city agencies in both counties.
After some fits and starts, agencies around the state now are starting to receive reimbursement checks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Earlier this year, fire officials protested what they called changes in FEMA's reimbursement policies that would have disqualified some overtime repayments, saying the changes could jeopardize the willingness of departments to respond to disasters outside their jurisdictions. The issue was resolved, and fire officials say the fear that some departments would not respond has faded.
"I think that concern is really off the table," said Plantation Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Joel Gordon, a spokesman for the Florida Association of Fire Chiefs.
Fire chiefs remain optimistic as they navigate a difficult, paperwork-intensive process.
"We're beginning to hear good things. What we are hearing from the departments is that they are getting everything they asked for," said Ormond Beach Fire Chief Barry Baker, coordinator for the Statewide Emergency Response Plan.
That may not be the case with every agency submitting reimbursement requests. There also is confusion over how much overtime is eligible for reimbursement.
Typically, firefighters work 24-hour shifts. Some fire officials say FEMA representatives told them that overtime would not be paid for the entire time they were on their shifts.
"This thing just kills me. These people were away from their homes, at their fire stations, waiting to respond to calls. Initially, they were only going to pay for the time a truck turns a wheel, which is stupid," said Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue Capt. Don DeLucia. "These people are there for 24-hour shifts. Some people were there for three or four days."
FEMA spokesman James McIntyre said the agency's policy is to reimburse overtime for 48 hours for the first two days, and 16 hours per day after that. He acknowledged that some agencies asked for less in overtime reimbursements based on what they were told.
"There may be a few cases out there like that, but not very many," he said. "If there is someone out there who only put in eight hours, that is what they are getting paid because that is their expense according to their records."
Agencies can ask FEMA to review those cases, McIntyre said.
Fire officials say parts of the reimbursement process have been unclear from the outset.
"Washington says one thing, the field reps say something else, then the cities ask for something else," Gordon said.
Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue submitted $1.8 million in costs for Hurricane Frances, DeLucia said, but FEMA so far has only approved $1 million. For Hurricane Jeanne, it was about $750,000, and FEMA approved $700,000, DeLucia said.
"That is a total loss of $850,000. No one understands their rationale," he said.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is seeking about $5 million for Frances and Jeanne, and that is being reviewed, said Pedro Medina, a county budget analyst.
The Broward County Sheriff's Office, which also oversees the county's fire-rescue operations, is seeking $2.3 million for both agencies for Frances, said spokesman Jim Leljedal. FEMA is reviewing the request, he said. Its request for $540,000 for Hurricane Charley has been paid, as was the $137,000 for Jeanne, he said.
Some agencies, such as the Martin County Fire District, that submitted their requests early already have been reimbursed.
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05-18-2005, 07:37 PM #1
Fema Money Begins to Arrive in Departments09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
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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.
09-08-2005, 11:48 AM #2
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