Firefighters return from New Orleans safely

By Michael Swiontek

The last of the area firefighters deployed to the disaster area in New Orleans safely returned Saturday.

Those firefighters are Lt. Tony Cox and Reid Rissman from DeKalb along with Dan Marcinkowski and Kevin Mikkelson from Sycamore.

This large-scale effort from Illinois began on Sept. 5 with 15 DeKalb County firefighters responding with a total 596 Illinois firefighters for a two-week deployment that was extended briefly.

Two more 14-day deployments of 226 and 120 occurred with communities in DeKalb County sending four more firefighters each time.

While in the ravaged area, Illinois firefighters fought 32 structural fires, half of which were second alarm or greater, according to a Friday press release from the DeKalb Fire Department.

During the last deployment, DeKalb Assistant Chief Bruce Harrison was asked to lead as Operations Chief for the entire Illinois group.

This experience better prepared Illinois and DeKalb to deal with disaster services, Harrison said.

The Sycamore Fire Department has had one of their fire engines in New Orleans for the entire six week relief effort. It will be brought back on a flatbed truck, in the same way other lent support vehicles are returned.

“No circumstance happened here that required that equipment” said Lt. Mark Kessler of the Sycamore Fire Department.

The camaraderie between firefighters of different places is very strong.

Some of the rescue workers deployed from other areas were from New York City. When Katrina hit, many New York firefighters were eager to go to New Orleans to help. They were especially eager because many New Orleans firefighters helped New York during the Sept. 11, 2001 aftermath, Harrison said.

“I’m sure that if anything happened in Illinois, we’d have plenty of help,” Harrison said.

During the first deployment, the DeKalb County firefighters spent their break time helping at devastated homes of the New Orleans firefighters and policemen.

This deployment, when not staffing the fire stations, firefighters provided humanitarian aid to those in need through “Operation Chainsaw.”