Video: New Orleans' silent service

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 2/7/2007 4:06:43 PM ET 2007-02-07T21:06:43

It's after midnight in New Orleans and we're inside a firehouse, where it might as well be the day after Katrina.

This is Engine 7, a primary downtown firehouse, but nobody lives here anymore. The engine now sits outdoors. The firehouse is in a trailer.

There were nine fires in New Orleans last night, and nine times they answered the bell. The New Orleans Fire Department hasn't received that much attention, but when you get the men alone, late at night, they begin to tell their story — of perseverance and profound dedication.

Glenn Trainor, deputy fire chief: So many of these guys lost their homes and stayed and worked and just being unselfish. And just kind of like the submarine is to the Navy, they're silent service.

These truly are the few, the proud and the brave. It is a fire department badly in need. There are 150 job openings. And there is no money — city, state or federal — to rebuild this firehouse. So the men in the trailer do what comes naturally: They turn inward and toward each other.

Robert Tourres, fire captain: Like the chief said, it is a calling. Because you don't come in and do it for the money. You know, a lot of us are second and third generations. My daddy worked 31 years.

Brian Williams: It gets in the blood.

Tourres: It is. You know, and it becomes second nature to you. It's what your job is. I think it's the people you work with, you know. What people don't realize is we're here 24 hours a day. You're with our brother firefighters more than you're with your own family.

The head of the department joins us. He's decided it's about time this story got told. These men have tried to move on, but Katrina still rules their lives. Everyone here lost their house, and they are bonded today because they all stayed back then.

Chief Charles Parent, fire department superintendent: You know, most of the guys, they work in a trailer 24 hours. They leave here and they go to a travel trailer in front of their house with, you know, a wife and maybe two or three kids. It gets cramped after a while.

Williams: Did you lose your house, personally?

Trainor: Yeah, I had four-and-a-half feet of water in my house.

Williams: And where are you living now?

Steve Lambert, rig operator: I'm back in my house.

Williams: You a carpenter? You know one?

Lambert: No, it was strictly a labor of necessity.

This is a city full of bad memories. On a ride with Deputy Chief Trainor, the landmarks start to reappear.

Williams: I was at this intersection. I watched that store get looted two days after Katrina, right there. We were right at this corner.

Members of the silent service are beginning to talk about what they've been through. And a city still crippled from Katrina continues to lean on them to answer the call.

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