New Orleans Firefighters Head North, Paying it Forward

FOX 8 News WVUE-TV - November 15, 2012

by Natasha Robin

New Orleans, La. - As firefighters in New Orleans watched Hurricane Sandy ravage New York, it was like déjà vu. "Sandy was equally scary because of the size and mass of it, the fact that is was hitting so many states at once. It's kind of like Hurricane Isaac. It didn't come through and blow through. It sat there for a while," says NOFD Capt. David Nick.

They were in constant communication with their brothers of the Fire Department of New York, getting first-hand information about Sandy's flooding and devastation.

"There are places there that look like the Lower Ninth Ward and Lakeview. Houses are torn apart and people weren't expecting that," says Capt. Nick.

A special bond between the New Orleans firefighters and the FDNY started in the days after Hurricane Katrina when Captain Nick and others were desperate.

"You're looking at your brothers and all of sudden one afternoon, there was a caravan of FDNY guys that drove up and it was almost like Mardi Gras. People were so down and all of a sudden, here's the cavalry," says Capt. Nick.

The FDNY traveled 1,400 miles to work side by side with fellow firefighters they'd never met.

"For the next five weeks, we rotated in and out of everything. After 9/11, who would have ever though that New Orleans firemen would be arm-in-arm fighting fires with these guys and that's exactly what happened. It was inspiring," says Capt. Nick.

They became friends and vowed to always be there for each other. Now in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Capt. Nick say it's payback time.

"It's overwhelming. When I just talked to my brothers and sisters that I work with, I'd say about 80 to 85 percent were on board before they even looked at the calendar. In fact, right now my biggest challenge is trying not to offend people because I can't bring everyone," says Capt. Nick.

36 New Orleans firefighters will make the trip with groups of 12 at a time for three weeks, all on their own dime.

"They did so much for us and I want to go back up there and help my brothers out again that came and helped us," says retired firefighter Larry Carbo.

Carbo was one of the first to sign up. As a crisis counselor for Catholic Charities, he'll be there to offer support.

"They're going to see stuff that's going to stay with them for the rest of their lives. They are going to see nasty stuff and that's what we're here for," says Carbo.

Since the grassroots effort began, donations started flowing in. "Southwest Airlines signed on and I was expecting a discount or something but they signed on with us and they are covering our entire flying expenses," says Capt. Nick.

They've gotten together with an organization called Friends of Firefighters. The non-profit has obtained a fire house in Brooklyn that dates back to 1872. That's where the New Orleans firefighters will be staying.

About 500 firefighters from New York were displaced during Sandy. The New Orleans firefighters will be gutting their homes and picking up debris.