The Corner

Jeepers

Your government in action:

CHICAGO — When a group of Indiana firefighters traveled to the Gulf Coast to help in the rescue efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they thought their skills in rescuing people would be put to use.

But two firefighters came back to Portage because they learned their real skills weren’t needed, NBC5’s Phil Rogers reported.

In a document that went out from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the agency asked for firefighters with very specific skills and who were capable of working in austere conditions. When they got to a center in Atlanta, they found out their jobs would be public relations.

“Our job was to advertise a phone number for FEMA,” said Portage Assistant Fire Chief Bill Lundy. “We were going to be given shirts and hats with a phone number on it and flyers, and sent to shelters, and we were going to pass out flyers.”

Lundy and Calhoun said they don’t want to bash FEMA or its mission, Rogers reported. They said they only want to help, and that there were plenty of other firefighters in the room who felt the same way.

“There was almost a fight,” said Portage Assistant Fire Chief Joe Calhoun. “There was probably 700 firefighters sitting in the room getting this training, and it dawned on them what we were going to be doing. And then it got bad from there.”

Lundy and Calhoun’s first task was an eight-hour course on sexual harassment and equal opportunity employment procedures, Rogers reported. Neither firefighter would be involved in technical rescues of trapped people or any of their other specialties.

“We’re trained in tactical medicine,” Lundy said. “We weren’t being used for that. We were being used to hand out flyers.”

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