Renovations underway at West Bank fire stations

Published 12:05 am Saturday, July 20, 2019

LAPLACE — Conditions in several St. John the Baptist Parish West Bank fire stations recently called “deplorable” are gradually improving, and plans are in place to ensure all upgrades will be completed in a timely fashion.

The conditions first came to light during a Parish Council meeting May 28 when West Bank volunteer firefighter Chad Roussel outlined a laundry list of deteriorating conditions in the four West Bank stations, including leaking roofs, lack of running of water, inoperable toilets and an infiltration of snakes in one station.

Several factors were to blame, Roussel and several council members said, but Cain Dufrene, chief operating officer for the St. John Parish Office of Fire Services, said the solutions were complex.

During that meeting, Dufrene reminded council members of a 2016 consolidated budget between the East Bank and West Bank developed after some questionable spending and a lack of budget protocol within by the West Bank department.

By the end of the May 28 meeting, council members asked Dufrene to take more of a hands-on approach on the West Bank.

During the July 9 Parish Council meeting, Dufrene reported he had met twice with West Bank Volunteer Fire Department Chief Helmond Lumbar Jr., and together they began to develop a detailed plan to address all of the issues on the West Bank.

Dufrene said it was agreed that career personnel would be responsible for all inspections, maintenance and clearing of stations in Edgard and Pleasure Bend. Volunteer personnel would be responsible for the same responsibilities at the Wallace and Lucy stations.

Any repairs unable to be completed by the volunteer staff should be reported to and scheduled through Dufrene’s office.

“A review was also conducted to ensure West Bank personnel are aware of the department’s process to request supplies, report issues and document inspections of apparatus and equipment,” Dufrene said.

Dufrene said walk-throughs have been scheduled at all four West Bank stations and items that need to be addressed have been identified with a plan on how and when they will be addressed. Additionally, all fire apparatus has been inspected, detailed cleaning of all stations has begun, repairs at the Edgard stations have started and the initial cleaning and organizing of the Pleasure Bend station is complete, with improvements and repairs ongoing.

Dufrene also noted plans that began in 2017 to replace the Wallace station on Highway 18 with a new neighboring joint-use facility are underway. During the June 11 council meeting, Aegis Construction was awarded the $1.855 million bid. Construction is expected to finish in 240 days, although the project cannot begin now because of the high levels of the Mississippi River.

“Overall, (the Wallace) conditions remain the same,” Dufrene said, adding that the majority of the issues will be addressed by volunteer personnel.

Smaller renovation plans for the Lucy station, originally scheduled to begin in 2020, started earlier this year, Dufrene said. Those renovations include replacing the damaged structured steel and damaged sheeting on the exterior of the station, as well as replacement of all insulation.

Dufrene reported several actions have been completed, including removing all non-functioning appliances, removing of cob webs, pressure washing the bay area, repairing all lights and plumbing fixtures, repairing and servicing the HVAC system and pressure washing the entire exterior of the building.

The next round of repairs include interior painting, concrete repair at the bay entrance, replacement of the septic system and sealing the exterior.

“Overall, station interior condition has improved substantially with the cleaning that was performed over the last few weeks,” Dufrene said. “Crews are now visiting this station twice a week to ensure it remains clean and maintained.”

by Richard Meek, contributing writer