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 » Rebuilding  |  Landmarks  | Storm & Flood  |  Special report

Firefighting gear stockpile unused

From CNN Producer Mike M. Ahlers

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New Orleans (Louisiana)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nine stockpiles of fire-and-rescue equipment strategically placed around the country to be used in the event of a catastrophe still have not been pressed into service in New Orleans, five days after Hurricane Katrina, CNN has learned.

Responding to a CNN inquiry, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Marc Short said Friday the gear has not been moved because none of the governors in the hurricane-ravaged area has requested it.

A federal official said the department's Office for Domestic Preparedness reminded the Louisiana and Mississippi governors' offices about the stockpiles on Wednesday and Thursday, but neither governor had requested it. (See the mayor blister feds for requiring formal queries for help -- 0:34)

The gear -- including generators, radios, breathing apparatus, cots and other items -- is stockpiled by DHS in nine locations. The three closest to New Orleans are College Station, Texas; Columbia, S.C.; and Clearwater, Fla. The gear is intended to replenish or sustain up to 150 first responders.

Contractors who maintain the gear are required to transport it to a disaster site no later than 12 hours after the initial request is made by local authorities and approved by DHS.

Short said that while the stashes contain some items like generators, much of the gear would not be useful in the circumstances faced by the Gulf Coast region.

But Steve Beaumont, a retired contract manager for Homeland Security's Prepositioned Equipment Program, said the gear would be helpful for fire departments wiped out by the hurricane. Each pod has 200 radios, including sophisticated equipment to make radios inter-operable, tying different communications systems together. (Watch the video of first responders in 'hell' -- 3:25)

"The concept was basically, if you had a major incident, this equipment could be brought into the city and reconstitute the local first responders. So they get fresh bunking gear, breathing apparatus," Beaumont said.

Each stockpile consists of a tractor-trailer filled with $2.2 million in gear, he said. Contractors are on call 24 hours a day to move the gear.

"There has been no movement of this equipment to this emergency. As of now there's been no movement at all," Beaumont said. (See the video of the mayor demanding feds to 'get off their asses' -- 12:09)

"I think it's sad because you've got almost ... $20 million worth of gear that's ready to be distributed. You've firefighters (in New Orleans) fighting fires in shorts. That tells me they're running out of stuff."

The project is run by DHS' Office for Domestic Preparedness.

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