On Sunday, September 4, 2005 Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Tom Carr received a phone call from one of the senior chiefs in New Orleans confirming that the New Orleans Fire Department requested assistance through the State of Louisiana to the State of Maryland for firefighters and apparatus. Fire Chief Carr confirmed with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency that an EMAC (Emergency Mutual Assistance Compact) request for firefighters and apparatus was received from the City of New Orleans via the State of Louisiana. The specific request from Superintendent Chief Charles Parent of the New Orleans Fire Department was to have firefighters and apparatus from other states provide coverage so his personnel could have a respite. New Orleans firefighters had been working for eight days straight without a break and they needed to take care of their families and personal belongs since most of them had not seen their properties.
Fire Chief Tom Carr immediately summoned his senior MCFRS staff to Fire and EMS Headquarters to brief the senior chiefs on the request and to begin planning sending Montgomery County firefighters and apparatus to assist the New Orleans Fire Department. MCFRS initiated an Incident Management Team (IMT) at the Montgomery County Training Academy and began to put in to play a comprehensive deployment plan in twelve hours.
The deployment plan of 86 career and volunteer firefighters with fire and EMS apparatus, a Montgomery County Department of Works and Transportation driver and fuel truck, Montgomery County Sheriff's and Montgomery County Police Officers all converged at the Training Academy at 0500 hours to begin medical screening for deployment to New Orleans as part of the task force. The combined task force of firefighters, DPWT and law enforcement was the first its kind and appropriate for this specific 14 day mission.
Fire Chief Tom Carr recognized the potential security issues and reports of civil unrest in the New Orleans areas. Fire Chief Carr contacted Police Chief Tom Manger to arrange for the best tactical operational personnel from the County's Sheriff's and Police Department to accompany the Fire and Rescue firefighting task force. Fire Chief Carr also made contact with Director Art Holmes from the MCDPWT to arrange for a fuel truck (diesel and gas) to accompany the task force because of the scarce fuel commodity in the Gulf Region and the Country at the time.
Members from the County's Fire and Rescue Service, the County Sheriff and Police Departments and DWPT were selected for the deployment. The medical screening began immediately as these personnel arrived at the Training Academy. They were greeted by the members of the MCFRS Family Support Network and their personal information and car keys were bagged and tagged.
At 0900 hours on Monday, September 5, 2005 the combined Montgomery County Firefighting Task Force departed from Montgomery County to the City of New Orleans on their mission to provide a respite for the New Orleans firefighting personnel. The weather was very hot and the task force traveled by land with fire apparatus, a fuel truck and law enforcement vehicle. An additional group of EMS units from MIEMS also traveled with the task force. In all, there were about 30 vehicles in the task force. The trip took a grueling 36 hours but there was significant assistance along the routes with police escorts from state line to state in most of the states. As the task force neared New Orleans it was becoming very evident that there was widespread damage and destruction. Almost all of the trees were down or gone and there was water everywhere and the majority of the areas were desolate.
A forward leadership team comprised of two MCFRS Chief Officers were already on the ground in New Orleans and providing a size up and location of where the task force was to report. The two MCFRS Chief Officers flew out of Dulles on Sunday evening to Houston, Texas and drove to New Orleans that night. The "intel" provided by the forward recon team was invaluable as specific logistics were procured and loaded prior to the Montgomery County Task Force leaving on September 5, 2005.
The Montgomery County Task Force arrived late in the evening at the base of operation in the Algiers region of New Orleans. The temperature was hovering around 100 and the humidity was 100 percent. We were greeted by the forward MCFRS Chief Officers and a New Orleans Fire Department representative. There was no electricity and a limited supply of water, ice and food. Montgomery County did not want to be a burden of the New Orleans Fire Department so we had brought enough food, water and ice for at least 72 hours.
An immediate briefing was supplied to the task force on what our mission was for the evening and the troops began to set up shop. The Montgomery County Task Force was housed with the New Orleans Fire Department personnel in a nursing home in Algiers. Other firefighting personnel from the New York City Fire Department, Chicago Fire Department and other Fire Departments from the State of Illinois began to arrive and assemble. A logistical section was immediately established and a security perimeter was established by the Montgomery County Law Enforcement personnel, as gunshots were heard upon our arrival. No one left the base of operations (BoO) without an armed escort.
An incident management team was placed in service and operational assignments were handed out as the New Orleans Fire Department personnel began to rotate out for a respite of 8 to 10 days. There were several serious fires in the city the first few days. Primitive ways were used to find and locate the fires in the city as there were no communications available upon our arrival. A post was located on top of the Nursing home and when they saw smoke a helicopter was dispatched to locate the fire and return with an address. Units were then dispatched and fought the fire. The main focus of the fire suppression effort was to ensure the French Quarters did not burn and become a conflagration.
The Montgomery County Task Force were assigned several operational missions to cover the City of New Orleans. The task force members worked a 12 shift and then were on call for the other 12 hours for 14 days straight. The Montgomery County Task Force focused on three items: operational assignments, community outreach and humanitarian efforts. The task force members began to clear debris from streets in the city and thus began to open areas up for travel, they began to clean fire stations up and ready them to be safely occupied and they went to the New Orleans Firefighters homes and helped them clear brush and place tarps on their roofs. By far, the clearing of city streets, cleaning and opening New Orleans Fire Stations and helping brother and sister firefighters was the most rewarding and impacting part of the mission in New Orleans for our personnel and for the New Orleans Fire Department.
It was unquestionably a once in a lifetime experience for the members of the combined task forces. The deployment provided an opportunity for Montgomery County, Montgomery County Government and Montgomery County Public Safety Agencies and other County Agencies to focus on a mission and complete the objectives with superb dedication and expertise. Each learned from the other as to what their specific job is all about and how we work together operational -- fire and law enforcement.
The Combined Montgomery County Public Safety Task Force made a lasting positive impression on the New Orleans Fire Department and the City of New Orleans. Fire apparatus, a fuel truck, computers, communication equipment and many great humanitarian works were all left in New Orleans. It was a fantastic and successful mission -- hats off to Fire Chief Tom Carr and the members of the Montgomery County Task Force they made a difference in New Orleans! They remained focused on their mission and always took the high road!
In closing, it must be written of the heroic efforts of the New Orleans Fire Department and their leader Chief Charles Parent. Chief Parent pre-planned to move his firefighters and apparatus to the Algiers section of New Orleans knowing that it was not likely to flood in that area. For this decision in itself saved a lot of firefighters lives and firefighting apparatus! Lastly, it must be told that the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana and the National Fire Service owes the New Orleans Fire Department a debt of enormous gratitude. The New Orleans Fire Department stayed on the job from two days prior to the hurricane, during the storm and up until they were relieved by firefighters from other states and did so without a break! The New Orleans Fire Department personnel are credited with saving some 14,000 lives during and after the hurricane struck New Orleans. The New Orleans Fire Department personnel have represented the Fire Service in the most honorable and noble manner! Two tips of the helmet to them and Chief Parent!
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