Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fire Officials Pledge to Help after Storms despite Cost; There Have Been Concerns about FEMA Reimbursing Their Crews after Deployment

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fire Officials Pledge to Help after Storms despite Cost; There Have Been Concerns about FEMA Reimbursing Their Crews after Deployment

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIDGET MURPHY

With a new hurricane season here, regional fire officials say they're ready to send first responders wherever they're needed after a storm hits, despite budget woes and some nervousness about being reimbursed for the missions.

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Rick Barrett said he's gotten a promise from Mayor John Peyton that if some of the city's 1,200 firefighters are needed elsewhere after a hurricane, they'll be going.

"I have his commitment that mutual aid is important," Barrett said. "He's given me full authority to deploy anywhere in the state I need."

Last summer, Jacksonville firefighters headed south after Hurricane Charley and to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Ivan.

So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has reimbursed all but $5,000 of the $401,000 spent, Barrett said.

Northeast Florida fire departments have gotten most of the funds back from the federal agency. But that didn't come without a fight after FEMA said in March it wouldn't pay for the money spent on backfill, the staffing costs for personnel filling in for firefighters at home when they're away on mutual aid missions.

Florida Fire Chiefs Association Executive Director Larry Scovotto said while some fire chiefs have concerns about getting the money back this year, it won't stop them from sending help.

"The only trepidation I see is that people are afraid FEMA's going to change the rules after the game," he said.

Scovotto said fire chiefs are also dealing with some local officials' resistance when it comes to deployments because of municipal budget problems.

Nassau County Fire Rescue Chief Charles Cooper said budget woes won't keep his firefighters -- about 90 in all -- home if the call for help comes. The county sent a rescue and engine company to DeSoto and Charlotte counties after Hurricane Charley and to the Gulf Coast area after Hurricane Ivan. …

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