Chief Thomas Stone has some words of advice for the fire departments that were hit by Hurricane Sandy earlier this month: Ask for help from, document what you lost and be very careful of what you accept as donations.
"My heart goes out to all those people in the northeast," Stone said. "If there's anything I can do, I wish they would call me."
Stone speaks from experience. In 2005, Stone lost all 10 of his fire stations in St. Bernard Parish, La., to Hurricane Katrina. Watching Hurricane Sandy work its way up the East Coast brought back nightmares for Stone, who still is rebuilding his department. He still feels today like the department still has a few years to go before it is whole again.
"Cortez Lawrence [then director of the Center for Disaster Preparedness] asked me after Katrina what the projection was for getting the community back to normal. I replied three years. Cortez said, 'Oh no, it will be a decade," Stone said. "He was right — we're still in a hole."
Stone is very clear in his advice to fire chiefs in the northeast area. "Try to get the department back in service and serving the people as soon as they can," he said.
After Katrina, Stone didn't know that FEMA could provide temporary facilities — tents and trailers — from which fire departments could operation. Instead, the department used a refinery and a cruise ship as temporary fire stations.
FEMA's public-assistance work sheets require a list of equipment that was lost and a cost for each item, so Stone said chiefs must begin to document their losses as soon as possible. And Stone is adamant that department personnel should research and find the prices to replace each item. For example, the department needed new window blinds. FEMA found a source to purchase window blinds on the Internet for $4.95.
"Get your own prices," he said. "A lot of it came back to hurt us because the replacement wasn't as good as what we originally owned."
Stone is grateful for the help his department received, but cautions how chiefs accept such help. For example, the department received a box of decrepit SCBA and bunker gear, as well as a 25-year-old apparatus to replace its 10-year-old truck.
"Take the items as a 'loaner,' not a donation," Stone advised. "FEMA won't replace what you accept as a donation."
During Hurricane Isaac earlier this year, St. Bernard Parish Station No. 11 — the department's newest station — withstood the storm. The 2-story concrete building features living quarters on the second floor and the apparatus bay on the first level. Stone said the louvers that opened out blew off the building — but the building still is standing.
Stone said he would welcome calls from chiefs in the northeast who have questions. "Who's better at helping the people in the fire service than people in the fire service. When you looked at the Katrina after action reports that was one thing that FEMA said worked well and that was hiring firefighters to go in and help the fire departments help those communities that were devastated."