Two city firefighters head south to aid FEMA
Altruistic duo gain support of city, chief yet Reazin, Clarke separated from families
Eudora's momentary loss could be the Gulf Coast's lasting gain.
Two Eudora city volunteer firefighters, Jim Clarke and Tim Reazin, are preparing to work in the ruins left by Hurricane Katrina. Both have been working for the city for more than three years, and both left to serve at a moment's notice.
"Basically these guys contacted me in reference to what they've been e-mailing out to FEMA. They're representatives of our department, but FEMA's sponsoring this," Deputy Fire Chief Mike Underwood said.
They left at 5:30 a.m. Sept. 7 and were flown into a community center in Georgia.
"From there they get their information on where they're going to be sent. They'll get all their gear -- their FEMA shirt, ID badges, and some sort of government credit card for expenses for car rental, hotel, et cetera," Underwood said.
The service period for FEMA will last a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 190 days and will be paid, Underwood said.
As of Tuesday, both Clarke and Reazin were still in Georgia, having gone through FEMA training. They are staying in what Reazin described as a "holding pattern." They hope to know where they'll be deployed soon as part of an eight-man team.
In the meantime, it's a waiting game.
"Just being away from home is the hardest thing right now," Reazin said.
Although they're biding their time in Atlanta, both Clarke and Reazin have started helping people.
"We were walking by and there were a bunch of women in high heels trying to load water onto this truck," Reazin said. "We just took over for them and loaded the truck. That's probably just the best thing we've done so far."
Underwood has confidence in the abilities of Reazin and Clarke.
"I think they're doing a great thing in representing the city, and I just feel real comfortable with those two going down there because they are ery well-trained firefighters," Underwood said. "This will give them an opportunity to use their training and the ability to help a lot of people who are in dire need of help."
The trip required sacrifices from the firefighters. For Reazin, it was a big one. He had to postpone his 6-week-old son's baptism.
"He gave up quite a bit to go down to help. They're down there now and should be reporting back sometime next week the status of what they're doing, what's going on and such," Underwood said.
For Reazin's family, the impact, so far, could be worse.
"Luckily we've been talking to him quite a bit until he gets deployed, but he's been close at hand so far," said Tim's wife, Lynn.
Lynn said she wasn't surprised by his willingness to head south.
"This is not at all out of character for him to run off and go help somebody," Lynn said.
In the meantime, the absence of Clarke and Reazin leaves the city fire station shorthanded.
"As an administrator or chief, of course I'm always concerned about manpower, but sometimes in a situation like this you have to look at the reasoning for making those decisions, and everybody around here will need to work a little bit harder to keep things covered," Underwood said. "It's two firefighters, but at a fire scene it can help you a bit with manpower."
That doesn't lessen Underwood's appreciation for what they are doing.
"I just feel it takes a heck of a person to go down and put themselves in the situation like this. I do admire them for their courage and their strength and to be leaving their families for a month or so," Underwood said.
"I just feel it takes a lot out of a person to do that and to put them in a situation where they will be dealing with a lot of devastation."
Their sacrifices have not escaped the notice of other city officials. Although, they are receiving pay from FEMA, the city picks up their worker's compensation benefits.
"The worker's comp is a small part of what we can do," Eudora City Administrator Cheryl Beatty said.
Underwood acknowledged the stress it would cause them and their families.
"It'll definitely not be an easy assignment, but I'm glad they stepped up and want to go," Underwood said. "I'm proud as a chief to send them and support them any way I can."