September 8, 2005

Is FEMA Wasting the Bravery and Dedication of Providence Firefighters?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Six Providence firefighters are traveling to Atlanta to aid in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, in response to a call put out by the Department of Homeland Security

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent an urgent message this weekend looking for 1,000 two-person teams of firefighters to volunteer in the storm-ravaged states.
The specific phrasing of “two person teams” suggests that Providence’s firefighters won’t be involved in front line search and rescue efforts, which is no doubt where they want to be. Instead, FEMA wants to use firefighters for “community relations”. This is from FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak…
"The initial call to action very specifically says we're looking for two-person fire teams to do community relations,"
And what do community relations involve? The Salt Lake Tribune, from which the above quote was taken, doesn’t paint a very complimentary picture…
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.

Why use firefighters, some of the bravest, most highly trained and motivated individuals a city can send, for “community relations”? The answer is, of course, is bureaucratic. FEMA wants to use firefighters because they’ve already had background checks.
But Louis H. Botta, a coordinating officer for FEMA, said sending out firefighters on community relations makes sense. They already have had background checks and meet the qualifications to be sworn as a federal employee.
If this story of this abuse of resources by the Federal government is true, then it is not enough to fire Michael Brown. FEMA quite clearly serves very little purpose, cannot be saved, and should be disbanded.