St. James takes high road on fire safety

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Volunteer fire departments are made up of some of the best people in our region.

Not only are these men and women giving up their free time for the community’s greater good, but they are also committing to doing something that is dangerous and requires a good bit of study and training.

St. James Parish Council members were correct to recognize that sacrifice and implement procedures that protect these volunteers while creating a safer environment going forward for residents and industry.

Parish Council members unanimously approved an ordinance this month that outlined to industrial partners that relying on volunteer fire departments in St. James Parish for emergency response is not an option. Each industrial partner also has to have approved emergency response plans to ensure they can handle incidents at their sites.

The need for such action was highlighted in June 2012 when a fire at the Rain CII plant in Gramercy taxed parish resources.

The effort hit home for Parish Councilman Jason Amato, who also serves as Lutcher Volunteer Fire Chief.

“Being experienced in industrial firefighting through my employment at Shell Geismar, I knew that we had some volunteer firemen who responded to this event that never were exposed to that type of fire training, and we were putting them at risk,” Amato said. “Secondly, our firemen struggled with trying to get water to the scene. There were no firewater pumps at Rain CII, no nearby hydrants and we even attempted to use the Port of South Louisiana fire boat to draft water out of the Mississippi River.”

Several local fire trucks were tied up at the scene for more than 24 hours, and Amato said St. James Parish implemented its Mutual Aid plan to have the Lutcher Volunteer Fire Department respond to either Gramercy or Paulina if there was a house fire, since their trucks were at the scene.

“Even though no one was injured and we eventually extinguished the fire, the personal safety risks and lack of appropriate emergency response resources raised a red flag and made me wonder how many of our other industrial partners were at this same liability,” Amato said.

Parish staff members went to work after that, surveying the local industrial scene and crafting an ordinance that put people first and creates a safety environment that benefits residents and industrial partners.