Risk part of life for volunteers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2002


HAHNVILLE – For the 40 men and women of Hahnville Volunteer Fire Department there are at least 40 different reasons for risking life and limb, and for sacrificing time with family, to serve the community.

They all agreed – when it comes to emergency response, you never know what to expect.

“We went to a call one night, years ago, where a train hit a car,” charter member Ernest Borne said. “It threw the car about 100 feet and when we got there the car was flat.”

Borne said he and the other firefighters thought the passengers were dead, but when they approached the car the rescuers heard talking.

“One man said ‘I told you we should have gotten another beer, then we wouldn’t have been on the railroad tracks,'” Borne said.

That night a tragedy was avoided. Unfortunately, not all the calls the department answered have been so successful. The men and women have also seen death and it is something they never really get use to.

“The worst memory was a lady that was burnt from the torso – that was all that was left,” firefighter Davis Nicholas Jr. said. “It was a house fire about 5 or 6 years ago. It was one of our firelady’s grandmother and that made it even worse.”

“It’s scary,” charter member James Azeringue added. “We don’t get any satisfaction out of putting fires out – not really. You hope you never have to help someone (in that situation), but when you do, be glad you can.”

Local firefighters carry a pager about the size of a computer mouse. When a call comes through the emergency center, a tone is sent out through the pager.

Each fire department has its own tone. If an emergency call is for Hahnville Fire Department, firefighters will hear their tone through the pager followed by a dispatcher’s information.

“We try to get everyone to come over here so we can get all the equipment,” Fire Chief Reggie Gaubert said. “I go directly to the fire scene. I make sure the power and the gas is off. I decide where I want the trucks, decide what hydrants we want. I just size everything up.”

But domestic fires and accidents are not the only types of emergencies Hahnville firefighters respond to. With increasing industry and technology, the fire department is increasingly being utilized in industrial fires and accidents, as well as gas leaks.

“Fire-fighting use to be just car fires and trash fires, now we answer calls for carbon monoxide poisoning, auto extrications, strange smells and we back up industry,” Chief Gaubert said. “We have to be prepared for just about anything.”

With about nine major industries, major trucking companies, part of the Mississippi and a nuclear power plant nearby, residents rely on Hahnville Fire Department to be ready for expedient action in the event of an emergency.

Weekly training, a fitness program incentive and special LSU seminars help prepare the local firefighters to do battle out in the local community.

The first Wednesday of every month, Hahnville volunteer firefighters meet at the central fire station on Lincoln Street in Hahnville for a general business meeting. Other Wednesdays are spent performing equipment checks and training to respond to emergency situations.

Incentives are offered to volunteers that attend meetings, training and seminars.

“It takes a commitment,” Hahnville Fire Department President Dennis Robbins said. “I believe everybody needs to find their niche to help in the community. Mine is fire-fighting. The fire department has given me that opportunity to help out.”

The members of the Hahnville Fire Department are a dedicated crew, with some members serving St. Charles Parish for more than 35 years. Firefighters say it’s hard to find that kind of dedication in volunteers today.

New incentive programs are in the works to attract volunteers to the fire department. Chief Gaubert said the department has been talking about starting a retirement program for the younger guys and the possibility of having some hired firefighters.

“We take any volunteers,” Gaubert said. “We will find something for them to do. Interior fire-fighting is not for everybody. We do have computer work; we need people to serve water and help with equipment; we need people manning the station.”