Just as four members of the Riverside Fire Department and two members of the North Riverside Fire Department were heading back home after a two-week stint aiding fire and rescue efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a second wave of local emergency personnel headed down to the Gulf Coast. They will return home on Oct. 1
Four Riverside firefighters and one Riverside police officer were dispatched to Louisiana a week ago to help continue relief efforts there. Among those sent were four paid-on-call Riverside Fire personnel, including Capt. Matt Buckley, who is a full-time firefighter in Lyons; Capt. John Buckley, who is a lieutenant in the Pleasantview Fire Department; Nick Cerello, a full-time Maywood firefighter; and Carl Argast, a full-time Pleasantview firefighter.
All four were part of a 200-person person team sent by the State of Illinois, in response to an emergency call from the State of Louisiana. Riverside is part of Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) Division 10, a mutual aid organization comprised of over 550 fire departments throughout the state.
The second wave of fire personnel sent to Louisiana is much smaller that the first, which left for the Gulf Coast on Sept. 5. That call-up included 600 firefighters and some 70 pieces of firefighting equipment.
Riverside’s firefighters are stationed in the Algiers section of New Orleans, and are responding to fire calls while on duty. In their down time, they are helping New Orleans firefighters salvage their homes.
According to Riverside Fire Chief Anthony Bednarz, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be responsible for reimbursing Illinois departments for expenses incurred in the call outs. He added that when Riverside firefighters were called out to respond to Utica, Ill. after a tornado swept through that town, it took three months to be reimbursed. He expected reimbursement to come much slower this time.
“This will have an impact on the fire department budget, and it won’t be reconciled until next year,” Bednarz said.
Bednarz added that despite a request from the MABAS president that Illinois firefighters not be included in a third deployment, it looks as if a third wave of state fire personnel will indeed be headed south in the coming weeks.
Bednarz said that while no other Riverside firefighters will be sent down, there is a chance that he might be required to head to the Gulf as a chief officer.
“It’s about 50-50 I’d have to go,” Bednarz said.
In addition to the fire personnel, the Riverside Police Department sent Officer Leo Kotor. Kotor, a member of Riverside’s Emergency Response Team, left for Baton Rouge on Sept. 20, just a day after being told that his participation in the first round of call outs was canceled.
According to Assistant Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, Kotor is being housed at an abandoned college dormitory some 45 minutes outside of New Orleans. Working 12-hour shifts, Kotor has been providing security for body recovery crews, ambulances and to assist in search and rescue missions when needed.
Kotor, who was sworn in as a police officer in 1998, is expected home between Oct. 1 and 4, according to Weitzel.
On Sept. 18, the firefighters Riverside sent to Louisiana for the first call out returned home after a 14-day deployment to New Orleans. The men worked 12-hour shifts, answering fire calls and assisting in home and fire station clean-up efforts. Those firefighters were Assistant Chief Kevin Mulligan, Lt. Bob Kraus, Matt Rose and A.J. Ruska.