New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Tim McConnell shot back Friday at the firefighters union leader in a dispute about the response to a fire in St. Roch this week that claimed three houses.
Firefighters union President Nick Felton had claimed firefighters were delayed in responding to the fire in the 1600 block of Marigny Street on Wednesday because they were posted miles away in support of mosquito-control efforts spurred by the threat of the Zika virus.
But McConnell called the notion that a quicker response could have stopped the fire from claiming more than one or two rooms a “blatant lie.”
He said the Fire Department’s response actually was quicker than for another fire a block away in August .
“They did a fantastic job and contained that fire to the two buildings that were involved when we got there,” McConnell said. “In fact, I think (the fact) that they were out on the street doing something probably got them there faster than (if they had been at) the closest fire station.”
McConnell said that according to Fire Department statistics, it took five minutes and 56 seconds to respond to a suspicious fire in August in the 1700 block of Marigny Street. For this week’s fire, he said, the first truck was on the scene in five minutes and 19 seconds.
Within eight minutes of the time the fire was spotted, McConnell said, the Fire Department had 21 personnel on the scene. He said national standards call for having 10 to 15 people on a fire scene within eight minutes.
“Five minutes is not a bad response time — compared to what?” Felton shot back. “We are centrally located around the city to ideally get on the scene somewhere between 30 seconds and 60 seconds, if at all possible. The longer it takes us to get there, the worse things get.”
Felton said a truck normally posted just seconds away at the station underneath an overpass at Interstate 10 and Elysian Fields Avenue was instead far away from the fire.
The dispute between the firefighters union and the department hinges in large part on whether on-duty firefighters, as well as their rigs, should be assigned to non-firefighting tasks such as mosquito abatement.
“When the Fire Department can partner to help mitigate what could be a potentially huge health risk to this community … we will do it,” McConnell said. “Prevention is really the key in both firefighting and public health.”
But Felton said firefighters should be given tasks like emptying water from tires only when they are not on duty.
“It’s penny-wise, dollar-foolish. It’s dangerous, and they’re going to continue to do it until somebody gets killed, and then there’s going to be an outrage,” Felton said.