Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

    August 29, 2005
    Hurricane Katrina
    Louisiana and Mississippi

August 29, 2005


August 29, 2005


 14 Members

Mission: Utilizing boats and personal water craft to locate 
                and rescue hurricane victims in and around New Orleans.
Base:     Metarie, Louisiana at the New Orleans Saints
               Football Training Camp.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005 


70 Members

Mission: Conduct technical search and rescue operations
                within the hotel/casinos damaged by hurricane.
Base:     Gulfport, Mississippi


Mission:  To assist local authorities.
Base:      Deployed in and around New Orleans





* * * 



State Crews Head to Gulf Coast
Hundreds of emergency personnel will 
assist in areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Times Staff Writers

   Responding to a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, hundreds of Southern California firefighters and search-and-rescue crews have been dispatched to the hurricane-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana coasts.

    At a Sherman Oaks fire station, where crews were preparing to leave for New Orleans, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told reporters Wednesday that he had spoken to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and offered her condolences on behalf of the city.

    "In Southern California we've endured and survived many [disasters]," he said.  "But in our lifetime, our country has never seen a disaster of this magnitude."

    Throughout the day, firefighters and other rescue personnel left Los Angeles and Riverside counties on buses packed with equipment that would allow the teams to operate independently during their work in devastated areas.  Crews from Orange County and Ventura also were deployed.

    "In addition to the swift-water rescue and disaster medical assistance teams, California now has more than 500 people on the road to Katrina now." said Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, which organized the response.

    Fire Officials said the Hurricane Katrina rescue operation represented the first time that Southern California's four special search-and-rescue task forces--consisting of personnel from throughout the region-- had been tapped by the federal government since the 2001 terrorist attacks.  But Los Angeles Fire Chief William Bamattre said local agencies remained well staffed to respond to any local emergency.

  "We all have been watching the devastation and recognize this is not a short-term effort,"  Bamattre said.  "At the same time, I want to reassure the people of Los Angeles we have sufficient resources here.  We'll be able to respond to any needs here."

    Late Tuesday, Orange County Battalion Fire Chief Mike Boyle and 13 members of his crew joined Los Angeles and Riverside rescue units on three military cargo planes that would take them to the flooded areas of southern Louisiana.

    Boyle's crew has responded to national disasters before, including the World Trade Center attack in 2001 and the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.
    But this will be different.
    "We expect to rescue people, but there are also wild animals we'll run across,"  Boyle said.  "That's why we've brought nooses: for the gators, snakes and [water] moccasins we expect to meet up with."

    Ishmael Messer, assistant chief of the California emergency services office, said reports indicated that 20 square miles of homes and land around New Orleans remained unsearched.

    "It's huge, and [the flood zone]  is probably bigger than anticipated, "Messer said."

    "We're being told water is rising an inch an hour in New Orleans, and with the storm moving north to Tennessee, we're' being told it'll be three to four days before the [Mississippi] river crests down around New Orleans."

    Los Angeles County Fire Chief Thomas Ewald said the California teams were unsure of what challenges awaited them in Louisiana and Mississippi.

  "Our concern is what's gong on in the areas we're not seeing on CNN in the rural areas." Ewald said

Times staff writer Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.

The Los Angeles Times, Thursday, September 1, 2005


L.A. fire teams 
see devastation 
in South up close

By Josh Kleinbaum
Staff Writer

    The 14 members of the Los Angeles Fire Department's swift-water rescue team were shocked by the sight of ruin and desperation when they arrived this week on the outskirts of New Orleans, officials said Friday.

    While far from the Superdome and the convention center, where lawlessness and suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have grabbed headlines, the pain and suffering they witnessed was just as heart-rending.

    "They were horrified," Fire Department spokeswoman Melissa Kelly said.  "There were dead bodies floating in the water.  There were so many snakes and animals and all kinds of things that they stopped and purchased machetes for their own protection --- protection from the elements, not the people."

   On Wednesday, the team was deployed to a 2-mile-by-6-mile zone in Louisiana outside New Orleans, where they rescued 197 adults and 47 children, Kelley said.

    But with victims crying for help everywhere, the firefighters were forced to prioritize --- more critical victims became more desperate and the region descended into lawlessness, the rescue operation became too dangerous, and FEMA ordered the unit to pull back, Kelley said.

    "(They) went to people with immediate need," Kelley said.  "When you have a person who can survive for a couple hours and a person clinging to life, the person clinging to life is the person in immediate need, rather than the person walking around screaming about his broken ankle.

    "Prioritization is where people started getting angry.  That's why they were called off that night.  We were told to stand down because of the uprising."

    Seventy more Los Angeles firefighters, from the department's Urban Search and Rescue Team, left for Jackson, Miss. on Wednesday to join the relief  effort.  With telephone lines and other means of communication down, the Los Angeles Fire Department can only communicate with the team through satellite phone, and only when the team calls Los Angeles.  The team has not checked in since arriving in Dallas on Thursday morning to await their instructions, Kelly said.

    Los Angeles County fire teams also arrived in Dallas, officials said, but again, communication was limited.

    The teams, composed of specially trained firefighters stationed throughout the city, could remain on the Gulf Coast anywhere from two to five weeks Kelley said.

Josh Klienbaum, (818) 713-3669


Report from the LAFD Swift Water Team



Local Firefighter Recounts Scene in New Orleans
‘It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,’ says rescue specialist Brian LaBrie.

Adam Clark Signal Staff Writer

“You can’t necessarily see the bodies, but you can smell them,” said veteran firefighter Brian LaBrie.
In New Orleans since the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall, LaBrie, of Santa Clarita, said it is the worst disaster he has seen in his 17-year career as a swift water rescue specialist for the Los Angeles Fire Department.
LaBrie was deployed to New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was in Oklahoma City for the bombing of the federal building in 1995, and he was in Los Angeles for the 1992 riots.
On Aug. 29, he and the 13 other members of his team were deployed to New Orleans where they have been rescuing hundreds of men, women and children.
“People ask me to describe it. I tell them it’s the (Los Angeles) riots, Sept. 11 and the Sacramento floods all rolled into one,” said LaBrie, who also is affiliated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is part of a rescue team that is generally the first on site at any national disaster.
LaBrie said he and members of his team have met death, destruction and violence at every turn.
“(There is) the massive destruction of the water and the flooding,” he said. “There is the violence where rescue workers are being shot at and boats are being stolen at gun point, and then there is the massive death (toll).”
Despite the horrible conditions, LaBrie said he and his team have been bringing in survivors by the hundreds. Their first night in the water, they rescued 197 adults and 40 children.
Some families have managed to stay together, he said, but many have been ripped apart. One of the hardest things to deal with are the orphans they find, he said.
One particularly difficult situation involved four children who were brought in without parents. The police department was overloaded at the time and was unable to do anything, LaBrie said.
“Usually we would turn them over to the police department ... we couldn’t do that this time because there were too many of them. We had to put them on the bus and send them to the shelter.”
Many of the men have families of their own, so “it was really hard for (them),” LaBrie said.
The violence is also unbelievably bad, he said. His team had to stop going out at night because of looters.
“It was too violent at night,” he said. “Most of the looters come out at night.”
Even during the day, the rescue teams didn’t go out without armed patrol. “We had (Drug Enforcement Administration) and (military) with us,” he said. “They all carried machine guns.”
Worse than the violence are the water conditions, he said.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen. There were rumors of E. coli in there; we were swimming in raw sewage, dead bodies, chemicals (from) the chemical plant and pesticides,” and a crude oil spill at one point, LaBrie said.
He said the Environmental Protection Agency has tested the water and is awaiting the results.
Despite the hardships, LaBrie and his team continue to work using every means available to them. “One day all the teams had to be airlifted into an area because that was the only way to get there.”
LaBrie said they find people everywhere, on their roofs and in upper levels of houses that are not completely submerged.
Nevertheless, as many as 50 percent did not want to be rescued, he said.
“A lot of them didn’t want to leave their pets,” he said. “We weren’t able to take pets because we couldn’t take a pet over another person.”
Due to the water condition and the overall level of destruction, LaBrie said it is not possible to guess when exactly survivors will be able to come back to the city.
“The water level is going to have to drop a lot,” he said. However, it has started to drop already, measuring a foot lower on Wednesday.
With an estimated 10,000 dead and 40,000 missing, LaBrie said it is going to take quite a while to search through all the houses and find all the dead bodies.
“It’s coming to the point where it’s no longer a rescue operation. It’s a humanitarian issue,” he said.
LaBrie said he is back in Santa Clarita for a few days to take care of some family issues.
His team is still in New Orleans and he expects that he will go back as well. Some of the team members are expected to be there through Thanksgiving.

The Santa Clarita Valley Signal, September 9, 2005

Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved.