Video: New Orleans Fire Chief

msnbc.com
updated 9/9/2005 11:08:55 AM ET 2005-09-09T15:08:55

Authorities in New Orleans are not only knocking on doors to try to get people to evacuate, they're also keeping an eye on fires.  Many fires that have been taking place in this city and they continue to rage. 

And no one knows that better than Chief Charles Parent, chief of the New Orleans Fire Department. He joined 'Live and Direct' host Rita Cosby on Thursday.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

RITA COSBY:  Nice to see you smiling after I'm sure what's been very, very difficult, very crazy.  First of all, today how many fires today?

PARENT:  Today was actually a quiet day.  We had just two working fires.  We made several rolls, but only two major working fires.  And it was just one house involved. ... Yesterday, we had 15 fires.  Six of them we couldn't gain the access to.  We fought them strictly by helicopter drops.  And we had a major fire at Dillard University, where we lost three multi-story buildings.  But the helicopters were able to contain it to those three buildings.

COSBY:  And in fact, we're hearing some fire engines in the background.  I'm not sure what that is, if that's something major or not.  Seems like we hear them all the time in this city.

PARENT:  Well, we knew this would happen.  We have a lot of gas leaks.  We have a lot of people without electricity using candles for light and cooking in their house.  And it's just a terrible recipe for fires.  The guys are truly exhausted, but every day, they go out.  And we've made some of the biggest fires in the city in the last week ... It's been more big fires in the last week than in the last three years.

COSBY:  Well, and I can tell you, that's impressive because I've been out here -- scorching heat, enormous temperatures.  You got this heavy gear on ...  and you're still fighting fires.  I can't imagine just what they're dealing with physically.

PARENT:  Well, the guys are pretty much exhausted.  We started rotating the guys out because they took a serious beating during the hurricane, and they started operating again right after the hurricane.  Then we started making fires right after that.

But we're lucky enough, we have firefighter brothers coming in from all across the country.  We have guys from New York, from Illinois, from Maryland, and they're giving us a hand right now.  And they're manning our pumps with our people and they're responding.  And it's really a terrific feeling.  If you go over to our compound, we have close to 800 guys over there.  They're getting along.  ... They're tight.  They're hot.  But everybody's got a good attitude.  And it's something to see.

COSBY:  Have you seen the reduction like the (New York) police department saw, with 500 people missing?

PARENT:  No, we didn't have anybody missing, but right after the storm, we realized that this is a psychological trauma to our guys.  So we started trying to rotate them out as quickly as possible.  You have to consider 80 percent of our guys lost their homes.

COSBY:  Eighty percent?

PARENT:  At least 80 percent.

COSBY:  What about your own home?

PARENT:  Well, I lost my home, but two days ago, I was able to go back and get my daughter's dog, so I'm happy.  My family's out of town.  I have my dog.  I can get another house.  But these guys, they lost their house.  Their families are displaced.  And we're constantly getting stories where their families are being put out of hotels because they ran out of money.  They only took what they had available at the time, and now they're being put out.
You know, these guys went above and beyond.  They've done things that no firefighter or no one has ever done before, and now they have to worry about their families looking for a place to stay.  It's hard for them to concentrate on their work and keep their emotions intact.

COSBY:  I can tell you, the guys that I've met out there have been so pleasant and so professional.  Really quick, I was astounded at this.  I just learned this right before you got out here -- that the water pressure -- you actually didn't have water pressure up until a few days ago?

PARENT:  Until two days ago.

COSBY:  What kind of water were you using to fight the fires we've seen, like, a week-and-a-half before that?

PARENT:  We used just about everything.  We fought a fire down the street on Canal Street, and we grabbed it right off the street because we were in a foot of water...

COSBY:  You physically used the water right out in the street?

PARENT:  Yes.  We ordered tank trucks, and we got tank trucks to come in.  We used the fireboats to supply our fire engine, and he tanked it to the fire and we used that.  We've come up with some creative methods.  I don't think you'll ever see helicopter drops in an urban environment like this again.  We came up with this plan.  We have communications with the National Guard and the fire copters from California, and it's really been a great help to us.

Watch 'Rita Cosby Live & Direct' each night at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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