Fire departments ask for citizens’ support

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 29, 2002


A big red firetruck drives through the center of town, colored lights flashing and sirens blaring. Strangely enough, the chaos of emergency response is comforting.

Help is on the way. The calvary is coming.

Most people know little about the operations of local fire departments or what it is like to literally walk through fire for the community.

Until disaster strikes, few recognize fire hazards and even less take precautionary measures against them.

It is October – National Fire Prevention Month – and St. John the Baptist Parish volunteer fire departments are asking the local government for help to staff departments.

Volunteer fire fighters presented a plan to the St. John Parish Council this week to hire firefighters for each fire station. Under the plan, LaPlace Fire Department would start off with six paid firefighters, Reserve with five, and Garyville and Edgard with four each.

“We wanted to do this a while back but we got held up by administration,” said Reserve Fire Chief Glen Bourg, spokesman for the coalition of area fire departments. “(The paid firefighters would work) strictly during the day when the major problems are. It is going to guarantee that the fire trucks have at least five or six firefighters.”

Under the current system, volunteer firefighters respond to calls whenever they come in – nights, early mornings, evenings. Many have made arrangements with employers to leave work early in the event of an emergency.

Still, firefighters say they are short-handed, especially during the day. Recruiting and retaining men and women for the payless and often thankless position is difficult.

“All fire departments are strictly volunteer,” Councilman Allen St. Pierre said. “It is getting harder and harder to find volunteers to staff fire departments. I think it is a good idea to implement this.”

St. Pierre said hiring firefighters would do more than just provide additional help to overworked and understaffed departments. Hired firefighters would also affect rating and keep fire insurance down.

“We would still operate with a certain number of volunteers until we can afford fully staffed departments,” St. Pierre said.

The Parish Council voted to meet with Fire Department representatives and the parish officials to discuss the plan. No date was set for the meeting.

The council also voted to accept bids for the purchase of a mobile “Safety House.” When purchased, the “Safety House” will be used at schools, senior centers and assemblies to teach precautionary measures/fire safety. The unit will be utilized by all four fire departments.