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In August 2005, Michigan Sheriffs, along with first responders from New York and Oklahoma, answered the needs of the Gulf Coast. They set up camp at a parking lot and slept in tents when they were not working to preserve peace and rescue and recover victims. Years after she first struck the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina is still wreaking havoc. One organization is working to alleviate some of the pain and get some deserving first responders' homes back functioning and livable for their families.
When Hurricane Katrina first hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in August 2005, law enforcement agents descended on the Crescent City to help out.
Among those represented were several member agencies of the Michigan Sheriffs' Association. Those sheriffs and their deputies -- some from as far away as a 20-hour drive in Michigan -- coordinated with other first responders from Oklahoma and New York and a local marina and caravanned down to the flood-ravaged Gulf Coast. They were involved in search and rescue missions and worked in conjunction with the local authorities, the federal agencies and the military while they were down there.
The once-in-a-lifetime experience stuck with the law enforcement officers who were most struck by the conditions of the homes of many of the New Orleans cops. Despite the destruction to their homes, those NOPD officers continued going to work and continued helping others as they pulled through the disaster.
Months later, in March 2006, the cops rekindled their connection to NOPD, checking in to see how everyone was doing. They were shocked to hear that in many cases people were worse off than when the officers first responded to the area.
Osceola County, Mich. Undersheriff Dave Fowler went back down to the Gulf Coast with Chris Lyons, a search/rescue/recovery specialist from New York. The pair had met during a Space Shuttle Recovery effort following the Columbia disaster in February 2003.
When they got there, Dave and Chris met up with the NOPD and quickly realized the officers were still working without basic supplies in their precincts. Dave and Chris purchased toilet paper, paper towels and soap out-of-pocket for the force. Next, they asked the cops to show them where they were living.
Dave and Chris found out that many of the officers were displaced from their families. Their homes -- which were all over the city -- ranged from destroyed to gutted. Most of the New Orleans police officers were without flood insurance and those that did have it didn't get enough money to rebuild.
On their last night in New Orleans, Dave and Chris formed the non-profit group Cops Helping Cops. Since then, they have worked with their home agencies and organizations to raise money, materials and manpower to build homes for New Orleans police officers. They have several corporate sponsors and work closely with contractors such as mold remediators, plumbers and electricians based in New Orleans.
To date, they have helped over 20 officers get back on their feet. To find out more about their organization visit their website at CopsHelpingCops.com and you can find out how you can help rebuild New Orleans.
In December 2007, Chris and Dave returned to New Orleans to pick out their next project. It was set to be an important one. The Michigan Sheriff's Association and other groups including the New York Police and Fire Departments and Colorado State Police were sending 40-50 volunteers and raising funds to come down in February of 2008.
The next guy on the list turned out to be the perfect selection: Sgt. Justin "Jay" Vitrano.