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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Resources schmee-sources

So Katrina has just passed. There's devastation all along much of the Gulf Coast. New Orleans has been flooded. So many buildings in that city are burning that the fire department can't fight all of them and has to assess each new one with triage protocols. Many people still have not been found. Many of them need emergency medical attention. FEMA has sent the call out to fire departments all around the country asking for volunteers and large numbers of these brave professionals respond. So what does FEMA have them do?

It has them sit in a day long training session to prepare them to hand out flyers.

"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 while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."

Yes, getting information to the victims of Katrina is important. But couldn't this be done by people who's skills are not so urgently needed elsewhere.

A firefighter from California said he feels ill prepared to even carry out the job FEMA has assigned him. In the field, Hurricane Katrina victims will approach him with questions about everything from insurance claims to financial assistance.

"My only answer to them is, '1-800-621-FEMA,' " he said. "I'm not used to not being in the know."

Many, if not most, of these people don't even have phone service.

The official reason for using the firefighters in this capacity is, "[t]hey already have had background checks and meet the qualifications to be sworn as a federal employee. They have medical training that will prove invaluable as they come across hurricane victims in the field."

The area has been declared a National Disaster. Doesn't that allow the government to cut the red tape and waive the background check? If not, why not? The designation allows other types of red tape to be cut. And what kind of qualifications are necessary to hand out flyers? As for the second reason, they are more likely to utilize their medical training if they were actively participating in search-and-rescue or aiding the New Orleans Fire Department.

And to end with the worst of it all:

Firefighters say they want to brave the heat, the debris-littered roads, the poisonous cottonmouth snakes and fire ants and travel into pockets of Louisiana where many people have yet to receive emergency aid.

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.

Update (20050908.1302): More on the story here.

Via Joshua Marshall

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