Firefighters return from New Orleans

By Michael Swiontek

There are certain times in life that force one to realize what is really important.

In New Orleans, basic things such as shelter, electricity, laundry facilities and good food are scarce because of the damage Hurricane Katrina caused.

Eight area firefighters returned from the Gulf Coast Wednesday to an appreciative community, and on Thursday, DeKalb Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Harrison arrived home. The firefighters will get a shift off as they will get physicals to ensure there are no lingering effects from working in the disease-ravaged area.

The earliest the returning firefighters will work is Saturday, DeKalb Fire Chief Lanny Russell said.

Down in the Big Easy, overtime became the norm for the transplanted firefighters. It was the same for the firefighters still in DeKalb and Sycamore – with part of the crew down south, the remaining force was putting in extra time. The short staff made this past weekend particularly interesting since there was a home NIU football game, but it ended without incident.

DeKalb will not have to bear any monetary costs because of the emergency contributions.

“FEMA will reimburse us for the backfill,” Russell said.

While they were helping sort out a city in shambles, the firefighters got wind of the many fundraising efforts back home.

“We’ve got a good town, willing to do what they can,” Harrison said.

And while the efforts made by local groups and organizations grabbed the headlines, the quiet support from their families was equally important to the firefighters.

“My wife Connie has been wonderfully supportive,” Harrison said. “We could not have done this without [the wives]. We were professionally and personally challenged.”

Russell said the wives could call the station if they needed anything.

And while he may be back in corn country, Harrison’s thoughts were still on the devastation of Katrina as he headed home Wednesday.

“This may be the largest natural disaster this country has ever seen,” Harrison said. “Certainly in decades.”

He said fires were increasing in the disaster area due to people using candles and charcoal in lieu of electricity.