By Becky Bohrer, Associated Press
Irma Simmons is carried by New Orleans Fire and Rescue officer Thor Barr after being rescued in a New Orleans Police Department boat in the 7th Ward of the city back when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Photo from the Chicago Tribune.
It’s one of the best gifts Tim McConnell can imagine giving: two more damaged firehouses, rebuilt and ready for firefighters to move into by Christmas.
“Watching the face of a firefighter as he’s moving out of a trailer into a firehouse, it’s amazing,” McConnell, a chief for the New Orleans Fire Department, said.
Hurricane Katrina damaged 22 of the department’s 33 firehouses, he said, forcing many firefighters to work from trailers. In the nearly 28 months since Katrina, 11 of the houses have been repaired, and three, nearly, McConnell said, with efforts led by private interests, including firefighters, volunteers and unions, businesses and The Leary Firefighters Foundation.
The foundation became involved after its founder, actor Denis Leary, visited a damaged firehouse while here to donate rescue boats to the department last fall. He promised to raise money to fix it, McConnell said.
Construction began in March, McConnell said, and since then grants, donated materials and volunteers work have helped repair that house and six others. All but three have been moved into; two, including one damaged in a tornado this year, should be ready by Christmas and the other, next month, McConnell said.
The foundation and others planned a news conference Monday both to tout the work done over the past year and draw attention to the work that’s left. The foundation plans to help rebuild four more firehouses next year but estimates it will cost $500,000 because of the damage.
One of the houses set to open this month is in Lakeview. In that neighborhood, which was more affluent than other hard-hit areas before the storm and has rebounded more strongly than others since, residents have held T-shirt sales and fundraisers for firehouse repairs and equipment.
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