Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lacombe Fire Department Open House

In 1975 Polly Morris wrote an article about the origins of the Lacombe Volunteer Fire Department and the dedicated men and women who made it possible.

The Lacombe Fire Station in 1975

Here is that article. 

Lacombe Fire Department by Polly Morris, August 20, 1975

 It is not often that an organization rolls out a red carpet for the public in general and all the departments in particular, but the Lacombe Volunteer Fire Department will give everyone a very royal welcome at Open House on Sunday, August 24, 1975, from 2 to 5 p.m.

The firemen have ample reason for holding Open House. It commemorates the 20th anniversary of their 1955 charter, and it is their way of saying a sincere "thank you" to the hundreds of people who have helped them with donations for the last two decades.

All of their equipment will be on display, so these contributors can see bow their money has been spent. There will be guest speakers, and of special interest will be the blessing of the new rescue van by the Chaplain of the fire Department, Msgr. Paul Gaudin. The van will then be dedicated to the service of the community, and turned over to the commissioners of Fire Protection District No. 3.

Awards will be given to the Charter members who have served continuously with the department for its entire existence.

To understand the underlying importance of this 20th anniversary, it is necessary to tell tie story of "One Fine Fire Brigade," an autobiography that was written by the deeds of men who learned that the only sure fire way to success is to hang in there and keep the sparks flying.

Homeless Fire Truck

 Their rags-to-riches story would have delighted Horatio Alger. The first chapter begins back in 1955, with 22 volunteers, one jeep, and no place to call home. The shiny 4-wheel drive Willys Jeep had been bought with the 24 mile tax money, and the firemen hated to see their one prized possession without a place to rest its weary hood.

It was moved from one temporary place to another, and came to be known as the "homeless fire truck." When Mrs. Irene Keller loaned a bit of land to the firemen, they built a shelter of sorts out of used lumber, but "they stilt needed a more adequate shelter for the homeless fire truck, and a place for meetings   and extra equipment. They put several fund-raising irons in the fire, with turkey shoots, raffles, dances, and dinners, the last of which has become a St. Tammany tradition.

The first one, however, was a near disaster. Two pigs and some chickens had been donated to the fire department, and the men took them to Fontatnbleau State Park to barbeque. ... in a very cold downpour. The wet wood would not burn well, so someone tossed in an overabundant supply of fat pine. The flames leaped up and the firemen forgot the pigs and the poultry until they could control a fire of their own making.

The First Dinner

The first dinner was served in the old school house In Lacombe. Despite inconveniences and discomfort, the dinner was a success. About 300 dinners were sold and the profit seemed enormous. They decided to make the dinners an annual affair, little realizing that in the future, they would hold at least two dinners a year, and sell as many as 1200 plates.

In 1959 a site was selected for a flrehouse behind the Lacombe Department Store. It was part of the old highway, and they planned to use the pavement as a foundation. A date was set for ground-breaking ceremonies, ard everything seemed to be going smoothly toward getting the Jeep a home.

Unfortunately a restraining order was issued by Judge Robert D. Jones on petition of the Oaklawn Development and Land Company, directing the police jury and Fire District No. 3 to show cause why an injunction should not be issued to prevent erection of a structure "blocking free access to the public highway". The firemen decided it was best to look for another site.

They found a suitable spot one block off Highway 190, the present location of the firehouse. They postponed the transaction until after the pending election, hoping desperately that the 24 mill tax would be renewed. It was extended for another 5 years, so the property was signed over to the fire department on March 30, 1959.

A well was drilled by King and Edwards, Police Juror Bosco donated a pump, and the volunteers installed it. They drew up plans for a firehouse, and received bids for the building.
The contract was given to Reine Construction Company of Slidell for a block-type building with roughed-in plumbing only.

Toward the end of 1960, the homeless fire truck finally had a home, sweet home of it's own, where it could rest between fire calls. But the firemen had little rest at all. They did the plumbing, the electrical work, installed 2 rest rooms, and built kitchen cabinets.

Though the tax money was imperative to the fledgling fire department, and the police jury filled, graded, and shelled the lot, and designated some funds for them, there was always an urgent need for more money. The population was on the increase and a rural area had a problem not found in a city. There were no fire hydrants, no emergency unit and brush fires were a constant threat. 

Brush Fires

Though rangers were supposed to fight the woods fires, they were undermanned and often too late in arriving. So the brave little fire department took additional burdens on its slim shoulders. They would fight woods fires, too.

The one jeep with a 300 gallon tank could pump only 350 gallons a minute. They needed another fire truck with a larger tank, built for the problems of a rural community. They needed portable tanks, ladders, fire extinguishers. . . the list was long and expensive. To cope with other emergencies, they needed a resuscitator and communications equipment. The task was monumental, but they kept on with fund-raising programs, and the public responded with enthusiasm.

Their efforts were not wasted on the Lacombe community and help came in various ways.

Some one donated an oxygen tank.. . someone a siren.. . and many gave of their time and labor. Slowly but surely the little fire department grew. A second truck was added in 1965; another in 1970. A ship builder made a tank for it, without recompense. Last year a van was purchased and equipped for a rescue unit. . . the only fire department rescue unit in the parish.

The firehouse that had once seemed so roomy, was now overcrowded, and the little homeless fire truck was again homeless.

Today (in 1975) the Lacombe Volunteer Fire Department is one of the finest volunteer groups in the state. Its men are well trained, because several of them go to Baton Rouge for special training school at LSU using their vacation time for duty to their community. Now there are almost half a hundred members, each with his own particular job to do. They have helmets, innerlined fire-fighting coats, and nail-proof boots.

They speed to the scene in bright red firetrucks with screaming sirens, flashing lights, and radio communications. They have walkie-talkies and keep in touch with each other and the firehouse.

How Fires Are Fought

They set up two 1,000 gallon portable tanks at the scene of the fire. One truck plays water on the fire, while another rushes to a stream and brings back water, keeping the portable tanks full. Between them, they can put a total of 2,600 gallons of water on the conflagration. They fight fires with foam, and keep the homeless fire truck busy going to brush fires where the big trucks cannot go. Where the jeep cannot reach, men go with extinguishers. They have packs for smoke protection, and one "space suit" that enables its wearer to walk even into flames.

Firemen's wives always "manned" the five fire phones, and received little recognition for their service... until of late. Now there is a Ladies Auxiliary.

The firemen have worked hard to serve their community, but there is always the unsung hero in the sidelines. . . the public who gives to make it all possible.

And this is really what the Open House is all about. . . a way to thank you. . . John Q. Public for your support. The firehouse is really your firehouse, and the welcome mat is already at the door. Ladies of the Auxiliary, are planning sandwiches, dips and refreshments in honor of you who have been so generous to one fine fire bridgade.

To read the original article as it was printed, see below. There are two pages. Click on the images below for a larger version. 

Page One

Page Two

Over at the Lacombe Facebook page, Cyndy Pearson posted these photographs of the Lacombe Fire Department volunteers and their truck in the year 1956.

 Left to right: Jimmie Rust, John Hoffman, Eulon Alford, Elton Kinler, Harold Seghers, Kenneth Stevens, Fred Huber, Otto O'Rourke, Cultus Pearson (Chief-in truck)

The Fire District Administrative Office in 2020

Polly Morris joined the writing team at the Mandeville Banner in February of 1974.