NEW ORLEANS - A new year means new improvements in the Crescent City. Officials are looking to complete dozens of major projects in 2013, including several new fire engine houses.
Since Hurricane Katrina, some fire engine houses have been operating out of trailers, like Engines 22 and 39 in the Lower Ninth Ward. More than seven years later, the city is getting ready to break ground on permanent buildings.
'What we're building is much better, and what we want it to be as opposed to what we had, which was, oh, 1920s and turn-of-the-century stations that were substandard in relation to code and the like, but these will be state-of-the-art stations,' said Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant.
In all, four New Orleans engine houses are slated to be rebuilt or renovated in 2013. They're among the 100 projects Mayor Mitch Landrieu promised to complete during his term.
It's a positive step, according to Nick Felton, president of the New Orleans Firefighters Union.
'There's so many engine houses in deplorable condition, any new construction of new fire houses is greatly appreciated,' said Felton.
But even as the city plans to break ground on some new fire stations in 2013, it also plans to shutter some others and cut the number of staff working at any given time, said Felton.
'We're concerned about running short-staffed, concerned about fire trucks running with only three men on board when they should have four,' said Felton.
Felton has been fighting the fire department's redeployment plan for months. Felton said, under the plan, staffing would drop to less than 700 by attrition, from 770 at the end of 2010.
Two fire engine houses and one fire station would close.
'We want to make sure that not only good fire houses, but good staffing, good funding, OK, is part of the equation too,' said Felton.
'These stations will accommodate the deployment plan the fire superintendent has put in place,' said Grant, of the new stations slated to be built this year.
The redeployment plan was initially set to go into effect last week. It was then rescheduled to begin Thursday, but was pushed back again so that fire officials can continue to iron out details with the city.
New Orleans fire officials declined to comment until the details are set.
The city will break ground on the new engine houses in the coming weeks. City officials plan to complete nearly 50 other projects in 2013, including repairs to the Milne Boys Home in Gentilly, the St. Roch Market, the NOPD's 5th District station and the Stallings St. Claude Community Center in the Lower 9th Ward.