1. #1
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    Nov 2001
    Division 24

    Default Misplaced priorities

    This is a joke right ?
    FEMA threatens to pull out copters
    Fire officials seek emergency funding
    Saturday, July 01, 2006
    By Michael Perlstein
    Three days ago, New Orleans Fire Department officials thought they had a handshake agreement to extend the loan of two FEMA helicopters that have proven vital in fighting large fires by dropping buckets of water from the sky.

    But on Friday afternoon, the department received e-mail notification that the helicopters were pulling out at midnight unless the city covers 10 percent of the cost.

    "It's very disappointing based on the way it came to us: on the last day, in the last hour," District Chief Norman Woodridge said at an impromptu news briefing Friday. "I can tell you right now that the New Orleans Fire Department does not have that (money)."

    It would cost about $386,000 to extend the use of the helicopters -- Voodoo I and Voodoo II -- until Sept. 3, Woodridge said. With the Fire Department strapped for cash, it has asked the city's Emergency Operations department to lobby for an extension.

    FEMA already extended the deadline for the helicopters' departure a couple of times. The most recent extension was granted two months ago, Woodridge said.

    FEMA officials could not be reached for comment late Friday.

    The airborne firefighting equipment has been used several times a month, with its most recent deployment coming last week. The choppers can drop up to 800 gallons of water in a single flyover, Woodridge said, about the same amount stored on a typical fire engine but dispersed much more slowly by hose.

    Woodridge said the threat of removing the helicopters comes at a critical time, with the city battling summer heat, low water pressure and a front-line firefighting force weakened by attrition. And in some still-vacant neighborhoods, firefighters are battling bigger blazes because so few people are around to promptly report them.

    "This move will severely hamper fire operations," he said. "It will compromise the safety of firefighters and citizens and also result in loss of property."

    Woodridge said Fire Superintendent Charles Parent was given assurances from federal officials Wednesday that the department's latest request for an extension would be granted. The about-face by FEMA came without warning, Woodridge said.

    The move was especially disappointing in light of the strong support the department has been receiving from FEMA, Woodridge said. The federal agency continues to provide the city 10 "water tenders," water-carrying tank trucks that can quickly be set up at fire scenes. That equipment will remain and, with the expected loss of the helicopters, could become even more critical, Woodridge said.

    "Don't get me wrong, we're very thankful for what FEMA has given us," he said.

    . . . . . . .

    Michael Perlstein can be reached at mperlstein@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3316.[

  2. #2
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    Division 24

    Default Better news

    FEMA fire helicopters to keep N.O. doused
    State offers to extend choppers' stay here
    Sunday, July 02, 2006
    By Karen Turni Bazile
    The state has stepped in with the money needed to keep two Federal Emergency Management Agency helicopters in New Orleans, where they have become a key tool in battling large fires since Hurricane Katrina.

    The helicopters carry buckets that can drop as much as 800 gallons of water at a time on fires, a major assist to the beleaguered New Orleans Fire Department, which lost several fire stations to the storm and must deal with low water pressure in much of the city.

    New Orleans Fire District Chief Norman Woodridge said Friday that FEMA had e-mailed word that the Voodoo I and Voodoo II helicopters would be pulling out by midnight Friday because FEMA's agreement to cover 100 percent of the cost of their operation was expiring.

    FEMA spokesman Wali Armstead said FEMA, which already had extended the deadline for the helicopters' departure a couple of times, had offered to continue paying 90 percent of the cost of providing the helicopters through September. But Woodridge said the financially strained local department couldn't come up with the needed 10 percent match of about $386,000 through Sept. 3.

    But Friday night, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, state Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc and Col. Thomas Kirkpatrick, state coordinating officer for the Katrina and Rita hurricane disasters, decided the state would provide the needed match.

    "With the ongoing drought and the holiday . . . they felt it was critical for the safety of Louisiana residents for those crews and equipment to remain in the state," said Mark Smith, spokesman for the governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. "They are available for emergencies outside of New Orleans if needed."

    "Traditionally, the city would be the matching agency," Smith said, "but with New Orleans' finances as devastated as they are by the storm, New Orleans was unable or unwilling to come up with the match."

    Smith said Kirkpatrick's office had been talking with local officials and works closely with FEMA and tracks what federal assets are available.

    Besides the helicopters, Armstead said, FEMA has loaned the city 10 water tender trucks that carry from 1,800 to 2,200 gallons of water each.

    Woodridge said the Voodoo helicopters have been used several times a month. According to a Fire Department press release, one of the helicopters was sent to a compost site fire Friday evening at Almonaster Avenue and Interstate 510 and made several water drops.

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