Salt Lake Tribune (Not Infowars) – Firefighters recruited for FEMA

From: Andrew Johnson

Date: 2005-09-07 08:45:12…: Fire crews to hand out fliers for FEMABy Lisa RosettaThe Salt Lake TribuneATLANTA – Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down foreight hours of training, the whispering began: “What are wedoing here?” As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded onnational television for firefighters – his own are exhaustedafter working around the clock for a week – a battalion ofhighly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggySheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta.Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughoutthe United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency,thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.Instead, they have learned they are going to becommunity-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughoutthe Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phonenumber: 1-800-621-FEMA.On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at theSheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed themin backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federalagency.Federal officials are unapologetic.”I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit hiscommitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens ofthis country,” said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak.The firefighters – or at least the fire chiefs who assignedthem to come to Atlanta – knew what the assignment would be,Hudak said.”The initial call to action very specifically says we’relooking for two-person fire teams to do community relations,”she said. “So if there is a breakdown [in communication], itwas likely in their own departments.”One fire chief from Texas agreed that the call was clear towork as community-relations officers. But he wonders why the1,400 firefighters FEMA attracted to Atlanta aren’t being putto better use. He also questioned why the U.S. Department ofHomeland Security – of which FEMA is a part – has notresponded better to the disaster.The firefighters, several of whom are from Utah, were told tobring backpacks, sleeping bags, first-aid kits and MealsReady to Eat. They were told to prepare for “austereconditions.” Many of them came with awkward fire gear andexpected to wade in floodwaters, sift through rubble and savelives.”They’ve got people here who are search-and-rescue certified,paramedics, haz-mat certified,” said a Texas firefighter.”We’re sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class whilethere are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven’t beencontacted yet.”The firefighter, who has encouraged his superiors back homenot to send any more volunteers for now, declined to give hisname because FEMA has warned them not to talk to reporters.On Monday, two firefighters from South Jordan and two fromLayton headed for San Antonio to help hurricane evacueesthere. Four firefighters from Roy awaited their marchingorders, crossing their fingers that they would get to dorescue and recovery work, rather than paperwork.”A lot of people are bickering because there are rumorsthey’ll just be handing out fliers,” said Roy firefighterLogan Layne, adding that his squad hopes to be in the thickof the action. “But we’ll do anything. We’ll do whatever theyneed us to do.”While FEMA’s community-relations job may be an important one- displaced hurricane victims need basic services and avariety of resources – it may be a job best suited forsomeone else, say firefighters assembled at the Sheraton.”It’s a misallocation of resources. Completely,” said theTexas firefighter.”It’s just an under-utilization of very talented people,”said SouthSalt Lake Fire Chief Steve Foote, who sent a team offirefighters to Atlanta. “I was hoping once they saw thelevel of people . . . they would shift gears a little bit.”Foote said his crews would be better used doing the jobs theyare trained to do.But Louis H. Botta, a coordinating officer for FEMA, saidsending out firefighters on community relations makes sense.They already have had background checks and meet thequalifications to be sworn as a federal employee. They havemedical training that will prove invaluable as they comeacross hurricane victims in the field.A firefighter from California said he feels ill prepared toeven carry out the job FEMA has assigned him. In the field,Hurricane Katrina victims will approach him with questionsabout everything from insurance claims to financialassistance.”My only answer to them is, ‘1-800-621-FEMA,’ ” he said. “I’mnot used to not being in the know.”Roy Fire Chief Jon Ritchie said his crews would be a “littlefrustrated” if they were assigned to hand out phone numbersat an evacuee center in Texas rather than find and treatvictims of the disaster.Also of concern to some of the firefighters is the cost borneby their municipalities in the wake of their absence. Citiesare picking up the tab to fill the firefighters’ vacancieswhile they work 30 days for the federal government.”There are all of these guys with all of this training andwe’re sending them out to hand out a phone number,” an Oregonfirefighter said. “They [the hurricane victims] are screamingfor help and this day [of FEMA training] was a waste.”Firefighters say they want to brave the heat, thedebris-littered roads, the poisonous cottonmouth snakes andfire ants and travel into pockets of Louisiana where manypeople have yet to receive emergency aid.But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters inAtlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered ontoa flight headed for Louisiana. The crew’s first assignment:to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.lrosetta@sltri…=== No virus found in this incoming message.Checked by AVG Anti-Virus.Version: 7.0.344 / Virus Database: 267.10.18/89 – Release Date: 9/2/2005 No virus found in this incoming message.Checked by AVG Anti-Virus.Version: 7.0.344 / Virus Database: 267.10.18/90 – Release Date: 9/5/2005

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