Local firefighters join state-wide hurricane relief effort

Riverside, North Riverside send men and equipment to New Orleans

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Four Riverside firefighters and two North Riverside firefighters are among the newest members?"at least temporarily?"of the New Orleans, La. fire department.

The four Riverside officers, including Assistant Chief Kevin Mulligan, Lt. Bob Kraus and firefighters Matt Rose and A.J. Ruska, headed down to Louisiana in a convoy with 600 other Illinois firefighters and some 70 pieces of fire fighting equipment last week as part of a state-wide emergency response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

North Riverside Fire Chief Ray Martinek declined to name the two firefighters sent to New Orleans from his department.

According to Riverside Fire Chief Anthony Bednarz, the firefighters left for the Gulf Coast at 7 a.m. on Sept. 5 after getting word on Sunday afternoon from the State of Illinois Emergency Operations Center that the relief effort was underway.

Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) Division 10, which includes Riverside, was told to provide 14 men and three vehicles for the relief effort. Mulligan responded in his capacity as a lieutenant for the Pleasantview Fire Department. The other Riverside officers volunteered for the duty, which required them to be deployed in New Orleans for 14 days.

The Riverside firefighters took along the department's pick-up truck, which Mulligan is using as a command vehicle during the deployment. The men also took enough supplies to be able to live in the field for five days.

After the 14-day deployment, Bednarz said the men will be given five days off. He added that another 14-day deployment could be requested, and that another round of volunteers could be headed down south.

The deployment has had an effect on the Riverside department, Bednarz said, but the MABAS call outs are done in such a way that no department could ever be crippled by responding to a disaster site.

"It does affect our staffing in Riverside," Bednarz said. "We've lost two very key personnel, and it has impacted us. But it's working."

According to Bednarz, the men are living in tents on the grounds of Our Lady of the Holy Cross College in the southeast section of New Orleans along with other firefighters from Illinois. Firefighters work 12-hour shifts and Bednarz has only had limited communication with the men.

Mulligan is serving as a strike team leader during the deployment, and the Riverside firefighters are "answering fire calls," Bednarz said.

Meanwhile, North Riverside's firefighters, part of MABAS Division 11, are stationed in the Algiers section of New Orleans near the French Quarter. Martinek said his men are part of a Rapid Intervention Team, working side by side with Forest Park firefighters in 24-hour shifts. Their mission, Martinek said is rescuing other firefighters during fire calls. No North Riverside vehicles were deployed to Louisiana.

This is not the first large scale deployment that the Riverside and North Riverside fire departments have responded to, although it is certainly the largest. Both responded to Utica, Ill. in the wake of a devastating tornado in April of 2004.

"We were also in [Chicago] for the [LaSalle Bank Building] fire, but I don't remember a call where we ever went out of state," Martinek said.

Riverside police officer Leo Kotor was scheduled to respond to the Gulf Coast as part of a Northern Illinois Police Alarm System Emergency Service Team (NIPAS/EST). Kotor was supposed to deploy Monday, but his deployment was canceled.

No Brookfield firefighters were sent to the Gulf in the first round of deployments. If a second round of deployments is requested, Brookfield could be tapped to send some personnel.

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