From all across the nation, local fire departments have sent firefighters -- many of them trained in emergency medicine and search-and-rescue techniques -- to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Federal Emergency Management Agency requested the help. But when the firefighters arrived in Atlanta, loaded down with the firefighting gear FEMA told them to bring, they were sent to a hotel to wait. Some of them have been waiting for three or four days now. Some have been assigned to sit through an eight-hour class on topics that included sexual harassment. And some have been dispatched to the disaster area to work as human props behind George W. Bush as he toured the destruction.
We've said this before lately, and we'll say it again: We're not making this up.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, "Hundreds of firefighters who volunteered to help rescue victims of Hurricane Katrina have instead been playing cards, taking classes on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's history and lounging at an Atlanta airport hotel for days. 'On the news every night you hear [hurricane victims say], "How come everybody forgot us?"' said Joseph Manning, a firefighter from Washington, Pa. 'We didn't forget. We're stuck in Atlanta drinking beer.'"
Well, not just drinking beer. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that FEMA put a team of 50 firefighters on a flight to Louisiana Monday morning. Their mission: Stand beside Bush as he toured the devastation -- just possibly not the best use for highly trained emergency workers, and a job we thought was obsolete in the digital age anyway.
FEMA defends the use -- or nonuse -- of the firefighters, saying that their chiefs knew they were being sent to the Gulf Coast to work as community-relations officers for FEMA. Apparently, that job entails working as human props and passing out FEMA's phone number. "There are all of these guys with all of this training and we're sending them out to hand out a phone number," an Oregon firefighter told the Tribune.
On Monday, the Tribune says, some firefighters began to take off their FEMA-issued T-shirts in protest. A FEMA spokesman responded by questioning the firefighters' willingness to help in a time of need. "I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country," FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak told the Tribune.