November 22, 2012

Even in a disaster area, the bureaucrats stick to their role

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Health, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:49

I had to double-check the URL here to make sure this wasn’t a parody news item from The Onion:

Bobby Eustace, an 11-year veteran with the city’s fire department tells FoxNews.com that on Sunday he and his fellow firefighters from Ladder 27 in the Bronx were issued a notice of violation for not maintaining restaurant standards in a tent set up in Breezy Point, Queens, to feed victims and first responders.

“It’s just a little ridiculous. The inspector came up and asked if we were wearing hairnets. I told him, ‘We have helmets. This is a disaster area,’” Eustace told FoxNews.com. “Then he asked if we had gloves and thermometers [for food]. I said, “Yeah, we have rectal and oral. Which one do you want?’ He wasn’t amused.”

Eustace says that the Health Department worker then checked off a list of violations at the relief tent, including not having an HVAC system and fire extinguisher.

“He told us that he might come back to see if we fixed the violations. But what can we do? We are just going to keep going until a professional catering company can help take over,” Eustace said, adding that firefighters across the city together have been contributing about $800 a day out of their own pockets to feeding victims in areas hit hard by Sandy.


  1. Just playing the devil’s advocate here – I’m sure firefighters know how to prepare food for groups of people, but what happens if someone gets food poisoning? I know the priority is disaster relief, but I can see the public health folk treating this tent the same as, say, someone setting up their own tent on their own property mass feeding folks.

    After all, it’s all about liability, isn’t it? >>insert eye roll here<<

    Comment by MILNEWS.ca — November 22, 2012 @ 12:05

  2. In this case, you have to prioritize: it’s a temporary set-up to alleviate a very severe problem. In this kind of situation, the priority has to shift away from the “perfect” state (all applicable health and safety rules fully observed and enforced) to the “possible” state (we’re doing all we can to keep people alive and fed until the emergency is over).

    The pettifogging details of the food inspector’s world (HVAC in a tent???) should also be prioritized. It’s quite reasonable for the inspector to check for sanitation issues and to notify the firefighters if there were easily addressed problems that directly impacted the people being helped (or the firefighters themselves). Applying normal rules for a permanent structure to a temporary facility just doesn’t make sense.

    Comment by Nicholas — November 22, 2012 @ 12:11

  3. Generally speaking, whenever our local firefighters go anywhere on a non-emergency basis, say the grocery store for instance, they do so with their fire engine and have their turn-out gear on board, ready to respond to a call without needing to return to the station first.

    Can’t imagine a much different scenario for these guys.

    So it had to be pretty “rich” for a pin-headed health inspector to come along and lecture these guys about the need to have a fire extinguisher in their tent kitchen. My response would be somewhere along the lines of, “Doesn’t the big red one parked out back qualify?”

    Comment by Tom Kelley — November 22, 2012 @ 16:35

  4. (HVAC in a tent???

    Sounds crazy, but you can do it. In the 90s the Marines had tents and airco units for servers and other critical gear. We only broke them on on special occasions, and we did not have many of them: I only saw them twice.

    But I take your point – dragging out the HVAC for a refugee food point is crazy.

    Comment by Brian Dunbar — November 24, 2012 @ 14:03

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