Fire Service Stays for the Fight

Aid to firefighters from firefighters is flowing into Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama from around the nation. "No matter where this happens in the country, this is what we do. We take care of our communities, then we take care of ourselves. That's why I'm proud to be part of America's fire service," said Chief Bill Killen, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

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Nearly four years since sirens screamed to the burning World Trade Center, the men and women of the nation's fire service have again been called upon to pick up the pieces of devastation. And they have answered admirably, even as many of them have lost their homes and belongings to Hurricane Katrina.

Through the punishing winds and rain, the massive flooding and the fires burning throughout it all, the men and women of the fire service in New Orleans, surrounding parishes, and throughout the gulf states stayed for the fight. The phones are down. There is no water pressure. Their trucks cannot get through flooded streets. Eleven days later, they're tired, they're worn out and they're worried, yet they remain on the job, committed to rescuing the ones they can and responding to hazards they hadn't imagined.

More than 70 percent of City of New Orleans firefighters lost their homes, according to Fire Superintendent Charles Parent. Their families are somewhere else, among the evacuees. From preliminary figures provided by the Louisiana State Emergency Operations Center, the IAFC estimates nearly 3,000 firefighters, fire officers (both career and volunteer) and their families have been affected by the tragedy in the New Orleans area. Five parishes and 47 fire departments were hit hard.

Firefighters and fire officers in surrounding parishes and in the hard-hit gulf coast face similar situations. Many of the fire departments in the impacted area have been totally devastated. Firefighters have lost their departments, and still they remain on the job.

The unflinching resourcefulness and dedication of firefighters and fire officers are among the encouraging aspects of this unprecedented disaster.

Since Katrina hit and Lake Pontchartrain flooded New Orleans, that fire department has responded to more major fires than in the last 10 years combined. They're working out of a government office building; at least a majority of the department's stations are flooded.

The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) deployed all 28 of the nation's Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) task forces to hard-hit areas. The USAR teams, which are primarily firefighter-based, have been working along the Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana coasts performing multiple search and rescue missions and making structural assessments.

More than 4,000 individual firefighters left their own communities and responded to FEMA's request for two-person Community Relations teams. At least 1,500 teams have been dispatched to affected areas. Forty of those teams were reassigned and dispatched to assess needs of fire departments within impacted areas: 20 teams to Louisiana, 10 teams to Mississippi and 10 teams to Alabama.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the IAFC established a joint command post in Baton Rouge last week. Together this humanitarian effort has focused on critical care and needs of area firefighters.

The IAFF brought several Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) teams from Austin, Texas, FDNY and the Boston Fire Department.

Firehouse.com, the IAFC and six other fire service organizations also have established an Adopt a Firehouse program. More than 500 fire departments have responded to help an estimated 350 impacted fire departments.

"This catastrophe will take months to recover from and will require additional support from the nation's fire service," said Chief Killen. "We are extremely proud of our firefighters' heroic efforts in the face of this huge tragedy affecting their homes, their families and their communities.

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