Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Firebirds

As I stepped out onto my porch with my morning coffee, I was met with a new twist to the urban experience in postdeluvian New Orleans: the urban firebirds.

I heard the loud, low buzzing of a helicopter: not in itself a unique eperience. Then it grew louder, and it seemed there was more than one from the mix of echoing sounds. The first came into view, a Coast Guard Dolphin helicopter carrying a fire bucket, bound apparently for the 17th Street Canal for water.

Low-flying choppers aren't themselves a special feature if the cityscape. When I lived in NorthEast DC behind Union Station--about halfway beween the Capitol building and Len Bias' favorite crack market--police helicopters routinely made very low patrol flights over our house, and on at least one occasion hovered over my little patio back yard with their powerful searchlight on, sweeping the yards and alleys behind my house for dog knows who.

These bright orange birds with the pendulous buckets were another reminder that I was not in the place I left almost 20 years ago, but was now resident in Debrisville. To supplement the strained resources of the New Orleans Fire Department, the Coast Guard uses the water giant buckets, which would be familiar to residents of the fire-prone western states, to help fight urban fires.

The NOFD lost 22 of 36 houses and all of the equipment in those 22, and many firefighters continue to live and work from temporary quarters such as school houses, etc. Its unimaginable that in the United States of America that these guys shouldn't have been first in line for help.

Nine months later, the city still has an underequipped fire department and areas of very low water pressure. The only way to prevent an urban house or business fire from consuming an entire block is to bring in reinforcements, so the choppers and their fire buckets remain a fixture. When you see them flying, you start to look for a column of smoke and hope that it appears far away.

There is some small comfort in the hovering helicopters. It is one sign that the central government has not abandoned us entirely to search for our lost, rotting bootstraps in the bottom of a lightless and flooded closet. Even if , we are not entirely alone. Even as FEMA tries again to evict the thousands of volunteers that want to help us, help continues to come. Thank you Coasties; thank you all who came and continue to come.

The vision of those flying buckets passing over my porch is simply another reminder that we are living in The Zone, a place we are all adjusting to just barely, a sector apart from the rest of America, where a police car flying down a street of shuttered and ruined homes past piles of debris puts me briefly in mind of Mad Max tearing through a apocolyptic outback.

The Zone is a place where the gaily colored blue roofs are not a sub-tropical affectation of yuppie renovators, but the frayed remainders of tarps covering roofs still unrepaired after nine months, where we approach the ubiquitous debris piles on the neutral grounds as warily as a Hummer driver on patrol in Iraq, mindful of the roofing nails and other debris that routlinely punctures our tires, where the trailers in the front of houses are not a hopeful sign that the summer camping season has begun, but the tiny tin homes of people whose lives remain months if not years away from any normalcy, a place where .


Comments:
I am so glad to see you posting about the firefighter issue which is apparently NOT an issue to the mayor. It's outrageous that the contract is still sitting on his desk unsighned, that they are still displaced, that they are still buying their own supplies and that they, unlike the police, still have no pay increase! This complete disregard for these brave men and women, who btw stood firm one and all during the thing, is an abomination! Not one single firefighter deserted this city during or after K.
When I first found the Denis Leary site, I sent the link to my friend whose husband is a FF. She said no one in the rank and files even knew about the fund! So copies were made & distributed through out. She said it did help their morale. And if he didn't have any fans of his show before in the NOFD, he has alot now !
This is an issue we need to keep in the NOLA blogosphere. I'll be emailing this post to my friend!(Actually 2 FF wives)
 
Funding is due to run out for the choppers at the end of this month. There is no way SW&B will be able to provide consistent good water pressure for at least another 4 to 6 months.
 
Another unexpected outcome and something you just don't think about from the outside until you read about it. Has anyone snapped a photo of those choppers?
 
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