FEMA will Pay for Katrina Overtime

Posted: 03-25-2008
Updated: 03-25-2008 09:40:59 AM

By MEGHAN GORDON, West Bank bureau
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

Jefferson Parish fire districts secured a $540,000 commitment Monday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disputed overtime pay from Hurricane Katrina.

Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts said the group received a surprisingly favorable response when they met with FEMA Director David Paulison in Washington. While the agency has not cut a check to reimburse the emergency expenses, the meeting appears to close a long battle fought by the parish and its fire districts.

The districts asked FEMA to cover the overtime it paid to firefighters for 14 days after Katrina, when they were asked to stand guard around the clock. The agency denied the reimbursement of any overtime charges beyond the first 48 hours, Roberts said.

On Monday, Paulison met with Roberts, Councilman Elton Lagasse, Bridge City Fire Chief Gary Girard, Marrero-Harvey Fire District President Charles Hudson, Marrero Estelle Fire Chief Perry LeBlanc, Marrero-Harvey Fire Chief Don Robertson, East Bank Consolidated Fire Department Director David Saunders and parish emergency czar Deano Bonano.

Roberts described Paulison as well-prepared with specific questions about the fire districts' activities in the days after Katrina, including a question about the fire set by looters at Oakwood Shopping Center.

"We walked into this meeting not knowing what to expect," he said. "We didn't know if they were just going to come up with excuses about why they couldn't come up with it or just give us lip service. It was so contrary to that."

Roberts said the parish representatives also put in a plug for Grand Isle's fire station that hasn't been rebuilt since the storm and felt assured by Paulison's assurances that top FEMA personnel would keep tabs on the project.

President Bush hired Paulison in the weeks after Katrina, touting the former Miami fire chief's three decades of experience responding to emergencies. He replaced controversial FEMA Director Michael Brown, whose post-Katrina performance was widely criticized.

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Meghan Gordon can be reached at mgordon@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3785.