Paid vs Volunteer
In reading a recent story on this site, I see that career firefighters are complaining about being community relations persons during the LA deployment. As a volunteer fire chief, it saddens me deeply that firefighters would complain about doing even the smallest task to assist in this tragedy. When have we all become so spoiled by unions and benefits and the glory of riding the big red truck with lights and sirens that we forget the driving force that prompted our journey into the fire service? We are here to help the community in any way possible.
We sit here year by year and we ask FEMA for money through the AFG grants, the SAFER grants and the Fire Prevention Grants. And, if we ask correctly we get the money. Where do we come off complaining about handing out a flyer? Who do we think we are? Municipalities aren't flipping any bills to send these teams to LA. They are getting reimbursed by FEMA. Sure, we have skills that can be used to fight the numerous fires and search for victims. But, that is not what they are asking us to do. They want us to reach out to the community and provide community service. That is what we do daily in our own departments.
I am ashamed at the complaints and dumbfounded that we as firefighters have lost the heart of the unsung hero. My own department of 40 members working 12 hour, on premise shifts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 365 days a year are biting at the bit to hand out a flyer in LA. They still hold the heart that has been untainted by the IAFF. I am sending three teams to LA in the coming weeks. Try to operate a volunteer department serving 10,000 persons with an average of 3000 calls a year. Can I afford to spare 6 skilled bodies with fire certifications from the state and NREMT registry....no. But, I will gladly because flyers need to be handed out.
You always have a right to express your opinion and maintain a values system that works for you.
My opinion is that you are reacting to a situation by interposing your value system as a wide general indictment on a group of people who are different than you. You are twisting the comments of folks who make a career out of firefighting to match your perspective.
Consider this - you are watching a house burn outside your jurisdiction. You have your gear and access to your pumper. It appears that there is just one firefighter from the jurisdiction using a garden hose. When you shout "do you need any help" he says "yes, can you direct traffic until the police arrive?"
FEMA's request for career firefighters to work as community relations contact employees - while it is apparent that lives still need to be saved and our brother and sister firefighters have been working non-stop for a week - seems to be an ineffective use of qualified resources.
Days after the request for one thousand two-person community relation teams there is another request for help. A national mobilization of firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement members going to the impacted areas (about the size of Great Britian) to work in place of the local public safety members for 14 to 21 days. That strikes me as a more appropriate use of career firefighters.
Since FEMA was merged into DHS the ability to lead, administer and coordinate a disaster response has suffered. The firefighters that worked the 2004 Florida hurricanes - some with twenty years of experience as FEMA contact disaster response specialists - reported unexpected difficulties in working with the federal "suits."
One of the two departments with the most experience with FEMA expressed concern and caution with the community relations contractor request - because of their concern about the safety and support of those contact employees (and anticipating additional requests for assistance) they did not support their department members participating in the program.
That department has spent years working with the feds to insure that ALL contract emergency workers (career, volunteer, professional, student and civilian) are not unnecessarily placed in harms way - physically, financially or emotionally. Not because they are idealists, but because they are pragmatic risk managers who reduce the number of near-misses and hazardous situations observed during every deployment.
That is just my perspective.
PS - on another thread the webteam relayed a message from FEMA that they recieved 4000 applications for the community relation contact jobs and they are taking no more applications.
PPS - Those "heartless" IAFF members have established disaster relief for their members affected by Katrina AND raised $21 million dollars for Jerry's Kids/Katrina relief last weekend. http://www.iaff.org
posted without comment
IN KATRINA'S WAKE
Rescuers turned into PR flaks
Latest FEMA outrage has 1,400 firefighters in sex-harassment training
Posted: September 7, 2005
1:00 a.m. Eastern © 2005 WorldNetDaily.com
As politicians and commentators assign blame for the slow response to the vast human needs caused by Hurricane Katrina, most fingers are pointing in the direction of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the latest outrage involving the recruitment of hundreds of eager firefighters who ended up being assigned as PR flaks instead of rescuers.
In Atlanta, FEMA gathered 1,400 firefighters from around the nation to help in disaster relief, but some were dismayed to learn that rather than helping to rescue or assist victims they would be dispatched as community-relations officers to hand out leaflets with the agency's phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.
According to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, the firefighters sat in a muggy hotel conference room Sunday receiving sexual-harassment training when they had hoped to be on the front lines.
On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area in Atlanta peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.
FEMA spokesman Mary Hudak said it was made clear, at least to fire chiefs, what the mission would be.
"The initial call to action very specifically says we're looking for two-person fire teams to do community relations," she told the paper. "So if there is a breakdown [in communication], it was likely in their own departments."
Many of the firefighters had brought along heavy rescue gear.
"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."
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."
Much of the criticism targeted at FEMA appears to stem from the agency's desire to "go by the book" when it comes to coordinating, and controlling, disaster relief.
"We wanted soldiers, helicopters, food and water," Denise Bottcher, press secretary for Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana, told the New York Times. "They wanted to negotiate an organizational chart."
Many news reports have included charges FEMA blocked aid from getting to victims in the early days of the relief efforts if it didn't go through proper channels.
President Bush has vowed to commission an investigation into FEMA's response to Katrina.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters yesterday: "We're going to have a thorough analysis of the response efforts. [The president] made it very clear that we need to look at the federal, state and local efforts to respond to this major catastrophe. This is a – one of the largest and worst natural catastrophes in our nation's history, and the president wants to know the facts. He wants to know what went wrong and what went right and how we can learn lessons from a catastrophe like this that occurred."
If the New Orleans Times-Picayune gets its way, FEMA Director Michael Brown will be one of the first casualties of such an investigation. The paper called for Bush to fire Brown and other officials who were in charge when Katrina hit.
"Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially," the paper states in an open letter to Bush in its print edition Sunday.
The Times-Picayune was scathing in its criticism for what it believes to be a slow federal response to the emergency and a lack of honesty from government officials.
Yesterday, Brown defended himself and his agency in an interview with Fox News Channel.
Responding to the call for his ouster, Brown said, "The president can do that if he wants to. We're too busy here helping people."
Brown emphasized that FEMA is not a "first responder" agency.
"I don't have cops and firefighters," he said. "That's a local government responsibility, and that's what they do."
While he claimed he was not assigning blame, Brown said, "We need to have a real serious policy debate about what the role of the federal government is. This disaster exemplifies all the kind of things that need to be discussed – the levees, evacuations, communications, the role of first responders."
As WorldNetDaily reported, Brown was fired from his last private-sector job overseeing horse shows.
Before joining FEMA as a deputy director in 2001, Brown, a Republican Party activist, had no significant experience that would have qualified him for the position. But the Oklahoman got the job through an old college friend who at the time was heading up FEMA – Joseph Allbaugh.
Joining the call for Brown's head, radio talk-show host Michael Graham told listeners yesterday: "We've got a guy too dumb to judge a horse show deciding how to handle the biggest natural disaster in American history. No wonder he botched it so badly."