New Orleans Firefighters Rescue Thousands by Boat

Harvey Eisner interviews first responders who used personal boats to search New Orleans following flooding, rescuing thousands of people stranded by the disaster.


Editor's Note: I traveled through New Orleans and Mississippi in December and observed the incredible devastation wrought by the high winds, rain, storm surge, downed trees and power lines and extensive flooding. Words cannot describe the damage to these areas including Alabama and...


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Editor's Note:
I traveled through New Orleans and Mississippi in December and observed the incredible devastation wrought by the high winds, rain, storm surge, downed trees and power lines and extensive flooding. Words cannot describe the damage to these areas including Alabama and Texas.

As I said in a previous editorial, I had been in New Orleans only three days before Hurricane Katrina hit the area. I was able to capture the damage with my camera, but only through the small area in which I traveled. Interviews were conducted with firefighters, officers and chiefs, which begin in this issue and more will follow in subsequent issues of Firehouse. Their stories explain what they went through, rescuing residents, under extreme temperatures, with little food and water for the first few days, knowing their own homes were damaged or destroyed. In New Orleans alone, 80% of the department members suffered losses. Firefighters where ever they were located in the Gulf Region battled the storm then fought fires, cut down trees, helped clear streets, performed search and rescue, and responded to people who needed EMS and helped where they could. When help arrived from county, state and federal sources along with firefighters from across the country, they were relieved by their brother and sister firefighters.

These initial stories give only a glimpse of what was accomplished under difficult conditions. This storm left a lasting impression on the landscape, the residents and the firefighters who protect them. It may take years for all three parties to recover.

-Harvey Eisner


Captain Tom Meagher
New Orleans Fire Department


During the approach of the hurricane, we were stationed at a downtown hotel. A woman came up to me and said her 7-year-old son had a heart problem and he would need his medicine soon. She didn't know how long they were going to be down in the lobby. The electricity was off. Generators were running. I said I would go up to their room and retrieve the medicine. Their room was located on the 25th floor.

Just as I made it up to the room and started to look for the medicine, a report of a fire in the elevator shaft on the third floor was radioed. I went out into the hallway. I was asking them if I needed to go to the roof to the elevator room. I could hear the building creaking. Over the radio, the other firefighters said they isolated the problem. I went back into the room. Apparently, the occupants had filled the bathtub with water as a precaution. The water was sloshing around so violently, it was spilling onto the floor from the shaking of the building.

I worked on boat rescue for eight days. My boat and trailer were in a parking garage in a high-rise building downtown. As I was listening to the radio, a young lady had called into talk radio station WWL. She said she was trapped in her attic. I picked up my boat and picked up a few firefighters. Everywhere we looked from the elevated highways, people were on rooftops. The boat was launched from an expressway ramp. From 4 P.M. through 7:30 P.M., 78 people were rescued. My boat is a 20-foot Bayliner rated for eight people. We were able to get between 17 and 23 people in the boat per trip. There were lots of obstacles to get through in the streets, trees, power lines and cars that were submerged. Because of fences, trees and cars, we couldn't get close to many of the houses. A rope was tied to life preservers. At one house we rescued a 97-year-old from an attic. We took turns swimming into the house. A firefighter in the boat would pull the person to the boat with the rope.

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