Trailers still a reality for post-Katrina New Orleans Fire Department


by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

Posted on August 31, 2010 at 6:23 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- From the city's fringes in Venetian Isles to the sparsely-populated Lower Ninth Ward, trailers are still a part of life for some New Orleans firefighters.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina, some firefighters work, sleep and eat during their shifts in trailers, parked right next to their bright red fire trucks. In Venetian Isles, for insurance reasons, the trailer sits in a warehouse; in the Lower Ninth Ward, it just sits outside.

"We're five years now plus, and you know, it's time," said Nick Felton, president of the New Orleans Firefighters Union. "It absolutely needs to come to a halt."

Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage to a more than 20 fire stations in the city. Volunteers were able to repair a number of them, but not all.

"The rest were totaled so badly that they couldn't be rebuilt," said Asst. Supt. Tim McConnell of the New Orleans Fire Department.

Now, though, there may be some movement to make the fire station trailers a thing of the past. Both fire stations are near the top of Mayor Mitch Landrieu's list of 100 crucial projects, which are to be built in the next three years.

"They're moving along," McConnell said. "They're in design phase with the architects right now and we're hoping, by spring, to break ground on getting the stations done."

Yet, there may be a snag at one of the sites: a need for more space.

"In the Lower Ninth Ward, it's a little but different," said City Council Member Jon Johnson, who represents the area.

As it stands now, Johnson said the site at Caffin and N. Claiborne Avenue is simply too small to accommodate a fire station and a proposed community center, with parking lot and a pool. If more land isn't acquired soon, he said the fire station may need to be rebuilt somewhere else.

"We've got a lot of vacant land in the Lower Ninth Ward and we might have to end up looking at another site," Johnson said. "It doesn't mean that we've giving up on the original plan, which was to put everything there on that particular footprint, in that particular area. But, right now, we're moving very, very slowly in securing the property that we need to put that fire station there."

In a statement to Eyewitness News, Mayor Landrieu's administration said rebuilding the fire stations remain a top priority.

"They are on our 100 projects list and will be fully funded. Additionally, money has been set aside as part of the 100 projects for both land acquisition and construction for the Sanchez Community Center in the Lower 9th Ward as part of our place-based development strategy," said Cedric Grant, the city's deputy mayor for Facilities, Infrastructure & Community Development. "We are also working with FEMA on a lump-sum settlement for all public safety facilities across the city, so that we are able to build back better than before."

Each fire station is expected to cost about $2.5 million to build. Groundbreaking is still set for the spring of 2011, with construction wrapping up by 2012.