Saturday, April 29, 2006

Heroes, and others

The big dogs come out to sing the praises of their betters at a banquet to honor employees of Acadian Ambulance.
I have no love for Acadian; they use strong-arm business tactics and ruthlessly drive out competition, and Zuschlag has long kept the Daily Advertiser in his back pocket, but they did step up to the plate and evacuated many people -- I don't have numbers, unfortunately, but certainly hundreds -- including critically ill patients and infants from hospitals. Those pilots and other Acadian employees should rightly be honored.
But there's a little problem: this story keeps coming up:
But the ambulance service in charge of taking the sick and injured from the Superdome suspended flights after a shot was reported fired at a military helicopter. Richard Zuschlag, chief of Acadian Ambulance, said it had become too dangerous for his pilots.
The military, which was overseeing the removal of the able-bodied by buses, continued the ground evacuation without interruption, said National Guard Lt Col Pete Schneider.
The government had no immediate confirmation of whether a military helicopter was fired on.
The problem, of course, is that there were no shots fired:
The only helicopter airlifts stopped were those by a single private company, Acadian Ambulance, from a single location: the Superdome. And Acadian officials, who had one of the only functional communications systems in all of New Orleans during those first days, were taking every opportunity to lobby for a massive military response.
More important, there has been no official confirmation that a single military helicopter over New Orleans—let alone a National Guard Chinook in the pre-dawn hours of September 1—was fired upon. “I was at the Superdome for eight days, and I don’t remember hearing anything about a helicopter getting shot at,” says Maj. Ed Bush, public affairs officer for the Louisiana Air National Guard. With hundreds of Guard troops always on duty inside and outside the Superdome before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, if there had been gunfire, “we would have heard it,” Bush maintains. “The instant reaction over the radio would have been overwhelming.”
The Air Force, to which the Air National Guard reports, also has zero record of helicopter sniping. “We investigated one incident and it turned out to have been shooting on the ground, not at the helicopter,” Air Force Maj. Mike Young told The New York Times on September 29.
Aside from the local National Guard, the other government agency with scores of helicopters over New Orleans was the U.S. Coast Guard, which rescued more than 33,000 people. “Coast Guard helicopters,” says spokeswoman Jolie Shifflet, “were not fired on during Hurricane Katrina rescue operations.”
On Wednesday, August 31, Zuschlag was warning the Acadian would pull out of New Orleans unless the U.S. Military took control of the city.
On September 1, Acadian "abruptly suspended" the evacuation of sick and injured people from the Superdome, because of that single mythical shot.
I realize it must seem supremely cynical to insinuate that Acadian planned to pull out of evacuation operations and seized upon the first flimsy pretext to do so. I'm not in any way slighting the courage or dedication of Acadian's pilots, who did perform heroically throughout the evacuation.
I think Zuschlag wanted out. He went so far as to claim that the military refused to fly out of the Superdome because of gunfire and demanded 1000 military police. Even as Acadian's pilots were battling the FEMA bureaucracy and landing on hospital roofs to rescue the dying, 25,000 people trapped at the Superdome were abandoned because of a rumor that neatly matches conditions made the same before. I suppose it is cynical, but if you've watched Acadian's business dealings in the past, it would be obvious that hardball is Zuschlag's preferred game. Ordering operations stopped becuase desperate, angry, frightened black people scared him or his employees? Not out of the question.
Interestingly, the owners of the notorious St. Rita's Nursing home had a contract with Acadian to move residents in the event of an evacuation:
He said the owners had plenty of opportunity to move their charges out of the facility. The Manganos were asked if they wanted to evacuate the building and were offered buses; in addition, they had signed last April a contract with Acadian Ambulance to provide transportation in the event an evacuation was needed, Foti said, but "they were never called."
The Mangano's are swine, of course, but man, what a sweet contract. "Sure, there was a hurricane, and an evacuation was called for, but hey, YOU didn't pick up the phone, so ..." Oh, and regarding this graph from that first Daily Advertiser story:
Prior to the event, Blanco called the Senate report released Thursday, which harshly criticized the White House's Katrina response, "armchair quarterbacking at its best."
May I just say pfffft. EDIT: Let me make it clear once again that I have nothing but respect and praise for the pilots and staff of Acadian Ambulance; as Shane points out in the comments, they rescued many people, and the pilots in particular acted heroically in those first few days. My beef has always been with Acadian's predatory pubiness practices -- and as Kevin notes, "always" goes back to 1998, when I created a Suspect Device comic for the Times of Acadiana (back when it was a newspaper) which led to a massive uproar and the resignation of both myself and the newly hired editor.


Anonymous kevin p said...

"I have no love for Acadian; they use strong-arm business tactics and ruthlessly drive out competition, and Zuschlag has long kept the Daily Advertiser in his back pocket"
Remember all the shit that got kicked up when you did the Suspect Device comic on Acadian driving out the competition gangster-style? Man, those were the days!

4/29/2006 07:52:00 AM  
Blogger Shane said...

A good friend of mine flies choppers for Acadian. He's the last person to defend them and I'm not here to do so either. I will say, my aforementioned friend took his bird out of the area pre-K and was the only pilot available in our area after the storm. He spent 3 non-stop days flying in and out of New Orleans, evac-ing babies from hospitals, flying blind at night from the city to Lafayette. He landed on rooftops with no helipads. He had to follow streets between buildings because he'd never flown to some of the places he was going except at ground level. His helicopter was so full once, he had to burn off fuel and literally BOUNCE off the rooftop to try to get airborne.

He's a Gulf War vet and says he saw and did things in those immediate hellish days after the Thing that he never had before. They had to pull him off duty because he was exhausted and overwhelmed by what he saw.

Say anything you want about Acadian, you'll get no argument from me. But please remember the men and women who risked their lives to save and protect people while the city they love, their homes and families drowned.

4/29/2006 07:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back around 1983 The Times of Acadiana caused an uproar when it ran a series that told the whole story about Acadian Ambulance. All sorts of advertorial/ PR / folks were getting in line to kiss Acadian's ass, but not TOA. Man, the excrement hit the empellers big time up and down Jefferson St.

It seems a contradiction that Zuschlag wanted the military to take over, since that could have grounded his operations and reduce his handsome reimbursment from the State or FEMA via the Lafayette Mafia in BR. OR, Zuschlag was willing to operate under the control of the military; he would have free help and still make his payoff.

Another thing: the distinguished elite, with pull in BR or with Blanco, delayed military takeover since that would have eliminated all private aircraft from operating in the area... there were many private operations launched by the wealthy distignuished elite who could bankroll a mission with a chopper with the range and operational capacity to get granny or a cousin or two out of harms' way in those conditions and fly far enough away for a comfy retreat or transfer to another form of transport.

Think about it... people in NO are screaming for help, and here and there a mysterious bird makes a precise approach to a particular house, someone grabs granny, and flies off, ostensibly with empty seats and without leaving supplies for others or without searching.... right in, right out, no looking around, ignoring pleas. These flights were shot at... a matter of survival.

I love Louisiana, but fear the powerful botton-line-morality elite that run a lot of our emergency and hospital operations. Zuschlag ain't the only one putting his own gain ahead of others' real suffering and sacrifice.

4/30/2006 07:40:00 PM  
Anonymous spinn said...

Really? You have that comic anywhere? I'd like to see it.

5/01/2006 09:25:00 AM  

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