Saturday, June 16, 2007

Operation Open Your Eyes


This morning, I made a phone call to a retired FDNY Firefighter who lives in the Fort Lauderdale area. I connected with him though another retired FDNY firefighter that I am friends with. His mission is to help the rural volunteer departments of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and didn't have much to begin with. He’s gone up there and helped them in numerous ways- securing donated apparatus that he refurbishes himself; donating supplies he has to beat the bushes for, and goes up there and trains them on the equipment. He's constantly trying to aqquire more for these disavantaged departments right here in the United States Of America.

I hope you will take a moment to hear me out.

When many departments dispose of apparatus, they either sell it via auction, or in some cases, donate it. Many departments choose to donate their apparatus to some foreign country, where the person (chief and others) that donate it and go down there are made out to be kings…they have streets named after them, have the best place in town to stay whenever they want, etc. A lot can be traced to politics and under the table moves. Some even send perfectly good apparatus to Brookfield Wreckers for scrap metal, or sell them to a used fire apparatus dealer who will take them and export them for triple the profit.

However, there are many departments IN OUR OWN COUNTRY that need equipment desperately. When I am better, I have been invited down to document in photos these departments, how the operate, the devastation they suffered, and the neglect by the government to this day.

Let me give you a couple of scenarios.

-Just a few weeks ago, a US based fire apparatus manufacturer shipped 15 Engines to Halliburton, to serve FD’s in Iraq. (Halliburton, who, by the way, is moving their corporate headquarters to Dubai in the Middle East to avoid paying taxes on their HUGE contracts awarded by the US to “rebuild” Iraq). OK, so we can send 15 BRAND NEW fire engines overseas, that probably will get blown up at some point anyways, but we have departments in our own country that are operating, for example, with a 1966, yes Nineteen Sixty Six American Lafrance Pumper that's on it's last legs and is pushed to its limits and then some as their sole front line apparatus-when they also, besides modern apparatus, need a tanker and aerial, in some communties and ambulance and rescue truck, not to mention so much more..

-A US-based turnout gear company has a contract to supply thousands of sets of brand new turnout gear to Halliburton and Iraq FD’s. Meanwhile, these departments in the states mentioned above, consider themselves “lucky” to have 3 sets of full turnout gear.

- A typical PAID firefighter in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana makes $9.50 AN HOUR to start, and it doesn’t go up much. An overnight stock boy at Wal-Marts in the same area make $15.90 an hour.

- Departments, such as Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Los Angeles, FDNY, and many departments across the nation have ignored pleas to send their apparatus, Fire PD or EMS, to these departments, instead sending their apparatus to departments in South America. Liability is not the issue- there was a federal law passed that any department that donates equipment for emergency services cannot be held liable.

-Prosperous departments routinely get money to purchase more and redundant equipmen that uneccasrily duplicates what they have- thermal imaging cameras, extrication equipment, smoke trailers, AED’s, etc. Meanwhile, there are departments in the US that are in desperate need of HOSE and other firefighter essentials. There's a town in Mississipi that had three fire deaths last year....yet they have applied and applied for grants for a thermal imager and other essential equipment....yet have gotten $0 every time. Meanwhile, some of the communties mentioned above have no fires, yet an arsenal that would be more then needed for any fire, ever, in their or neighboring jurisdictions.

-Many fire departments are packrats. How many departments have back rooms filled with gear and equipment they don’t need or use anymore, and probably won’t in the future?

-Departments in these areas have a code that new buildings need to be a minimum of three stories due to flooding, yet the nearest aerial or good compliment of ground ladders is over 40 minutes away. There is no or poor hydrant systems, so tankers are crudely built using whatever materials they can find.

-Imagine you were driving through some of these communties on your way to vacation or whatever, and gf, got into an accident and were pinned, and needed the help of these disadvanted departments that don't have extrication equipment, EMS training much less an ambulance, and have to wait for a tool to come from 40 minutes away and wait for the next available helicopter to come and START first response medical care and then to take you to the hospital since there is no ambulance to do so.

-And the list goes on........

How much sense does the above make to you? We’re all worried about “homeland security” and preparedness, but we’re turning a cold shoulder to departments in our own country that our in desperate need of apparatus, equipment, and training. Instead of keeping the apparatus and equipment in our own country, and keeping every community safe and protected, we’re sending it out of the country while our OWN fellow citizens suffer.

Did you know that Mississippi is one of several states that doesn’t require communities to provide fire or EMS. Also, Fire Departments there can’t do EMS. Many of these guys form rogue FD's themselves to protect their community. Where are the unions, where are the Volunteer Fire associations to help these people? We do MDA boot drives, have huge convention parades that costs thousands of dollars, car shows, and other events, yet how many benefit charities that help our own?

It was once said to me by someone who is very pro-career and I QUOTE "Ideally every community, even the smallest, should have a full professional paid force, much like Law Enforcment, but the Volunteers exist and at least we can do is make sure they are just as well equipped and trained as we are".

Sure, when there’s a disaster we’re quick to send help and money…..and the Metro NY area and nation did that after Katrina. But how quickly we forget……..imagine having a disaster in your community, and two years later having truckloads of supplies that you need drive right through your town to a port to go to a foreign country.

In the coming week, I hope to launch a grassroots campaign that gets my new friend Patrick’s mission across…..a federal law that mandates departments, when they dispose of equipment, that they donate it to a place that’s in need in our own country. My eyes were opened today, and we seriously need to start helping OUR OWN in OUR OWN COUNTRY. Sure, it’s nice to help around the world….but we need to worry about our own communities-and people- first and foremost!

I sincerely hope that some of you on this forum will help me out with this. More information on this initiative will be announced later this week on