Genii Weblog

Fiddling while New Orleans Burns

Wed 7 Sep 2005, 09:47 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
I thought my capacity for disbelief was exhausted by the past week of news on Hurricane Katrina, but this...this is truly appalling.  I cannot say more.  I am just too horrified.

See Frustrated: Fire crews to hand out fliers for FEMA from the Salt Lake Tribune:
As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta. 

Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the 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 be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.

On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.

Federal officials are unapologetic. 

"I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak. 
Oh my god!

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What has been said:

363.1. Stan Rogers
(09/07/2005 08:18 AM)

"I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak.

Vishnu H. Krishna! My god, too, if he/she/it is different from yours.

363.2. Wild Bill
(07/09/2005 08:44)




So. Highly trained, motivated, firefighters - handing out flyers ?

Who at FEMA is responsible for this travesty ?


When PR is more important than saving lives, its time to start thinking about moving planets.

---* Bill

363.3. Greg Walrath
(09/07/2005 09:10 AM)

Yup, it's true, this is more about the spin and less about the needs of the people.

363.4. Christopher Byrne
(09/07/2005 10:06 AM)

Let's step back a minute and hope that MAYBE FEMA knows what they are doing in this instance (I know it is a stretch, but bear with me).

There is no water to fight the fires in New Orleans. So they cannot be used for that purpose. It could also possibly be that FEMA has too many resources in some areas, and this is where they need the assistance. If the firefighters came to offer their assistance and this is where they are needed, then perhaps they should suck it up and help where it is needed: getting information to people who may not know who to call. And who knows, while they are handing out flyers, they may come across situations where their skills are needed.

If they can stand on street corners with their boots in hand and ask for money, they can certainly help in this area if needed.

It is easy to criticize and second guess, especially when we are not on the ground with these volunteers. But unless we have the FULL information, let's not assume things right away.

Except for the fact that the New Orleans Mayor is incompetent, who know's what the Governor was thinking, and the FEMA Director does not know his a** from a whole in the ground.

363.5. Ben Langhinrichs
(09/07/2005 08:33 PM)

Christopher - I certainly agree with your last comment.

363.6. Rod Stauffer
(09/08/2005 02:49 PM)

First off, couldn't agree more with Bill. Well said.

Chris, to accept the excuses you listed would require us to ignore many statements in the article, not to mention the ham-handed approach FEMA has demonstrated thus far. This is not the only instance of FEMA attempting to spin.

The article indicates that FEMA assembled this group of firefighters. To me that means they did not simply volunteer at the "general office." Why would FEMA house them together if not to help out in their area of expertise? Ah, right. FEMA says the request was clear--FEMA only wanted the help for community relations. Sorry, but that's a poor plan. Unless there's a surplus of emergency workers, the firefighters are better suited elsewhere. To request their help solely for PR...appalling.

Then consider that the NO Fire Department is "exhausted after working around the clock for a week." Even if it's impossible to fight fires as you suggest, they're trained in emergency procedures, search and rescue, etc. There's so much to do, the existing force is exhausted. Seems to me additional people with proper training would be ideally suited to assist the NO fire department. Hmmm. Who would have the proper training?

For FEMA though, it's all about PR, as demonstrated by the final paragraph of the article:

"But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas."

Another quote:

"It's a misallocation of resources. Completely," said the Texas firefighter.

Read the whole article again, and tell me how that firefighter is wrong.

363.7. Rod Stauffer
(09/08/2005 02:50 PM)

Doh. I realize already, I should have said Christopher. Sorry.