Giving Back: Volunteer department delivers full time

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, September 16, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

VACHERIE — Passion is the best way Allen Chenier can describe it.

Chenier is the fire chief for the South Vacherie Volunteer Fire Department, which recently saw its Property Insurance Association of Louisiana rating upgraded from a level 5 to a level 4.

Chenier said a stronger rating means a lower number, adding the level change would help reduce insurance costs for property owners in the district’s coverage area.

The department boasts 63 members, including 29 active firefighters. Of the 29, volunteers include medical responders, EMT paramedics, first responders and HAZMAT trained personnel.

The fire chief said the dozens of volunteers associated with the department routinely give of their personal time for scheduled training sessions locally and across Southeast Louisiana, while also responding in bulk when emergency situations call for it.

“With fires, most people run from them, we run towards them,” Chenier said. “To a man, everyone in this department would say the same thing. We have a passion for helping people.”

The department’s recent strong showing was lauded by St. James Parish Councilman Ken Brass as an example of community spirit.

“These young men and women volunteer their time, whether it’s in a meeting, responding to emergencies and even doing community service, like putting on fire-prevention events at local schools,” Brass said. “I definitely tip my hat to them for all the time and effort they put forth to the fire department and this community.”

Crew members with South Vacherie train once a month, sometimes more when it calls for it, Chenier said, adding department members go to some LSU training and events put on by surrounding departments.

Department leadership has also created a preplan drawing for area businesses, including each building’s square footage and entrances, gas and water locations.

“If there is a fire at that business, there is a preplan of what we are going into,” Chenier said, adding there are approximately 57 businesses in the department’s coverage area.

The work paid off with the recent reclassification by the state, a heavily involved process that occurs every five years.

“(The inspector) goes through our inventory, everything that we have to make sure we have an adequate amount of buildings for the square mileage we cover,” Chenier said.

“He checks the inventory of all the fire trucks, the proper hoses, the proper nozzles, all the tools we need on that for the square miles we cover.”

Chenier said the department purchased a little more equipment this year to put on the units and increased its activity, which showed in the better rating.

“What really helped us was the training, the extensive training we did,” he said.

“Our guys went through a lot of extensive training in the last five years. We had it all documented. That helped big time.”

The department’s tools include two pumper trucks, a reserve pumper, a rescue truck and an EMS sprint truck, which allows South Vacherie personnel to respond to structure fires, rescues, extrications, vehicle wrecks and HAZMAT situations.