Friday, November 23, 2007

WTC Vets to Help Rebuild St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana

Newly-established emergency response team to assist Katrina’s forgotten victims.

St. Bernard Parish, LA (November 22, 2007) -- If you’re visiting the New Orleans area in early December, and you encounter some nice folks with foreign accents -- like Brooklyn and North Jersey -- chances are you’ve just met some heroes, the H.E.A.R.T. 911 Rescue Team. The New York-based emergency team will be in Louisiana working to rebuild parts of St. Bernard Parish, once a thriving middle class community of nearly 70,000 – that is, until Katrina came along.

The non-profit, volunteer response group is comprised of veteran police officers, firefighters and construction workers, all of whom served at Ground Zero during rescue and recovery operations following the September 11th attacks. On this special deployment, family members of victims of the 9/11 tragedy will be joining them.

Mission Possible
To fully appreciate the H.E.A.R.T. Team’s mission in St. Bernard’s, you need to understand how Katrina affected this quaint parish that borders New Orleans’ 9th Ward. In short, the St. Bernard’s was obliterated -- every home, every business, every government building wiped out. (read: The Backstory)

You’re probably asking yourself, “St. Bernard Parish? I don’t recall any mention of that community during coverage of the Katrina disaster.” You’re right; you never did see news reports from the parish, because the disaster in St. Bernard’s was never really covered. Instead, TV networks and news agencies chose to pick up racially motivated stories of government neglect coming out of New Orleans itself.

Two years after Katrina plowed through Louisiana, St. Bernard Parish is still very much like it was on August 30, 2005 -- a wasteland. That’s why the H.E.A.R.T. (Healing Emergency Aid Response Team) 911 Rescue Team chose the parish for its very first deployment.

The primary mission of H.E.A.R.T. 911 is to aid in disaster relief efforts around the world by organizing teams of volunteer rescue and recovery workers to help affected areas. While in St. Bernard’s the 50-member team will help rebuild homes and community facilities in the parish.

The H.E.A.R.T. 911 Commanders

"We learned a great deal working on the recovery effort following the events of September 11th and now we want to bring together our expertise to support the victims of other tragedies," said Lt Bill Keegan (PAPD-retired) who was the Night Operations/Safety Commander for the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) at the World Trade Center. He served at Ground Zero from September 11, 2001 until it closed on June 3, 2002.

Keegan heads the H.E.A.R.T. 9/11 Rescue Team along with Owen McCaffery and John Moran who held the same positions as Lt. Keegan at the site for the NYPD. The trio is joined by Tom Thees, whose financial background allows him to seek corporate financing for the team.

Their W.T.C. Rescue/Recovery experience has given the H.E.A.R.T 911 organization a unique overview of the coordinated and sustained effort needed to respond to a crisis.

"The experience of 9/11 left us with an overwhelming need to use what we've learned to aid in other disaster relief work", said Keegan.

The current team is made up of about 100 firefighters, police officers and construction workers who volunteered or worked on rescue and recovery on September 11th. In the event of another man-made or natural disaster, the team is ready and willing to help.

Bear Stearns Underwrites Inaugural Deployment

Unlike government run rescue teams, H.E.A.R.T. 911 is financed through corporate sponsorship. The team has been fortunate to have teamed with Bear Stearns Companies, Inc, a leading financial services firm which serves governments, corporations, institutions and individuals worldwide.

"We are honored to support an organization with such an admirable purpose," said James E. Cayne, chairman and chief executive officer of Bear Stearns. "We were all affected by the events of September 11th and it is wonderful to see that the lessons learned from the recovery effort of one tragedy will be translated into helping others in need."

You can join too!

H.E.A.R.T 911 is seeking additional, experienced emergency personnel to serve on this all-volunteer rapid response team -- regardless of location or affiliation. Personally, I think it’s an ideal opportunity for retired emergency personnel, as well as those who are training for an emergency services position. Enrolling is as easy as logging onto and clicking on “How can I help?”
A personal comment: It's been 2 years since Katrina wiped out St. Bernard Parish, and during that time the Parish Fire Department has cut half of its staff, and the remaining members still have NO Fire Stations to call home. What's the deal? If someone can enlighten me, please email me.

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