Phoenix Rejects FEMA's Policy On Unarmed Rescue Teams

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Phoenix Fire Department plans to continue to include armed police as part of its urban search and rescue team and asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rethink its no-firearms rule.

FEMA suspended Phoenix's team last week for including armed police, in violation of the agency's no-firearms policy, during hurricane relief efforts in the Gulf Coast.

The four Phoenix police officers were deputized as U.S. marshals. Firefighters do not carry guns.

The suspension has generated a firestorm, with Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon calling it ''idiotic'' and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano calling it ''unfathomable.''

Both sides have been at an impasse, with Phoenix officials calling for a rules change and FEMA sticking behind its suspension.

But now the federal agency appears ''more than willing to talk about it and look at that as an option,'' Phoenix Assistant Fire Chief Bob Khan said Thursday. ''The discussion, at least as we see it, has been heading in a positive direction. Our intent is still to deploy with the U.S. marshals as a security detail. We hope we can come to some kind of agreement on that.''

In a letter to FEMA, Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini wrote that integrating U.S. marshals into Phoenix's team was a ''model for future deployments,'' and Phoenix officials said it should become the national standard.

FEMA officials did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

But the agency has said ''a series of judgment errors'' by Phoenix's team leaders ''put that team, other teams and the victims they were rescuing at unnecessary risk.''

Earlier this week, FEMA spokesman Butch Kinerney said armed personnel were ''expressly forbidden'' and FEMA ''will not place personnel in risky situations without adequate protection.''

Phoenix officials dispute that, saying teams were performing rescues in areas plagued by lawlessness.

Khan said FEMA knew Phoenix's team was bringing U.S. marshals when it was deployed to help with Hurricane Rita. He said FEMA told them to ''keep a low profile.''

Information from: The Arizona Republic

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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