- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

District officials say they are finalizing plans to send dozens of firefighters and police officers to the Gulf Coast in response to requests for assistance from states hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Ed Reiskin, the District’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said city officials were assessing the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department to see what they could spare.

“We obviously can only send as much as we have available without compromising our strength here,” Mr. Reiskin said yesterday.

Mr. Reiskin said there have been some “communications challenges” as District officials try to get answers to some specific questions about what type of relief is needed, where and when.

He said he had no timeline for when the city workers would head south and no firm idea of how many officers and firefighters the city could send.

“It’s hard to say. It would be in the dozens,” he said.

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday that his department has received requests for cadaver dogs and officers from its harbor patrol unit and that several officers have already contacted department officials volunteering to help.

He said that plans call for mutual aid workers to rotate through the area, so it is not necessary for every jurisdiction to send help at the same time.

“This is going to be going on for three, four, five months,” Chief Ramsey said. “Everybody needs to take a breath so that they don’t run out of steam. We don’t want people to get burned out.”

Within three days of the hurricane’s landfall, Montgomery and Fairfax counties sent more than 30 members of their highly specialized Urban Search and Rescue teams. The Montgomery County team returned home last night, but 75 more rescue workers left the county in a 20-vehicle caravan Monday to relieve their New Orleans counterparts who have been working nonstop since the hurricane.

Prince George’s County on Monday sent four paramedics and firefighters to the area and Arlington County plans to send a six-member task force of emergency incident managers today.

The first group of D.C. firefighters are scheduled to fly to Louisiana out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport this morning, said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. fire department.

The 14 firefighters are the District’s contribution to a call issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 1,000 firefighters nationwide to respond to the area. Mr. Etter said the D.C. crew’s assignment has not yet been determined.

Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, said that the city’s firefighters are eager to get the call to go help.

“It’s not that we’re not prepared to go. It’s not that we’re not ready to go. The department is willing and ready to send troops and we have made our intentions known,” he said.

The subject of hurricane relief, and the city’s participation in the relief effort, was a popular topic yesterday on an Internet message board for D.C. firefighters.

“It’s been disheartening, to say the least, watching our neighboring fire departments sending members down south to help out with the Hurricane Katrina relief while we sit here on our duffs,” wrote one firefighter on www.thewatchdesk.com.

“Manpower is what’s needed, and if it’s passing out fliers to civilians or moving debris from one side of the street to the other I’m there,” wrote another.

Robert Redding Jr. contributed to this report.

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