West Feliciana Fire Protection District No. 1 celebrates 25 years
POSTED: Saturday, May 26, 2012 - 9:00am
UPDATED: Saturday, May 26, 2012 - 9:04am
West Feliciana Parish, La — The West Feliciana Fire Protection District No. 1 will celebrate 25 years of service in June. The Fire District was created by a unanimous resolution of the Police Jury pursuant to Louisiana State Law on June 10, 1986. In 1987, the Fire District was officially organized. Twenty-five years is commonly associated as the time many began looking at the possibility of retiring and hanging up their given profession or trade. It’s the mark of someone that has accomplished a great deal over their career and looks to cut back on more ambitious endeavors. In the case of the Fire Protection District, we hope we are just getting started. There is an old saying that “one needs to know where they have been to know where they are going.” History is important. It teaches us of good and bad and helps shape our future. We would like to share with you a little of our history.
Since the creation and formation of the Fire Protection District, community leaders and volunteers have worked to improve fire protection and emergency services for the unincorporated areas of the parish. In 1987 voters authorized a tax milliage to be collected to fund the Fire District. The motivation for the district was formed out of a sense of need by the rural communities within the parish. Residents were either unable to purchase homeowner’s insurance or paid a very high premium for this insurance because they had inadequate fire protection.
Prior to 1987, the Town of St. Francisville provided the only fire protection for the entire parish. With a combination of hard work and dedication, St. Francisville Fire Chief James M. “Jimmy” Robinson pushed the Parish Police Jury to ask for a tax proposal to support the creation of Fire Protection District No. 1. The tax proposal passed easily and allowed for the people living in the rural areas of the parish to receive fire protection.
Once the Police Jury authorized the district to be created, Chief Jimmy Robinson worked diligently to arrange for the purchase or donation of land to place the stations on and to develop the structure of the Fire Protection District. The stations were strategically placed where the most coverage of homes would prevail. Chief Robinson insisted that the stations be named after the communities they served verses numbered as is done in many communities. The idea was the members of the sub-communities of the Parish would have more pride and ownership of their respective stations. Equipment was designed and ordered, including eight Ford Motor Company engines and eight tanker trucks to be housed in the eight stations to be built. The 16 vehicles had diesel engines and standard transmissions. The tankers had 1,500 gallon capacity water tanks and the engines were equipped with 1,000 gallon a minute pumps. Elmer Broadbent was hired to design and build the stations and to oversee the construction of the eight stations.
By the summer of 1987, the engines and tankers began to arrive and the stations were in the process of being built. Chief Robinson appointed district chiefs for each fire station so they could help oversee the building of the fire stations in their districts. The first district chiefs appointed were Carl Delaney for the Tunica Station, Mike Bunch for the Weyanoke Station, Archer Lee for the Solitude Station, Wayne Hammer for the Wakefield Station, Calvin Willis for the Spillman Station, Tim Tandy for the Elm Park Station, Cecil Landry for the Rosemound Station and Ray Dreher for the Star Hill Station. A Fire Board was also created during this time to provide oversight. There were many challenges with the building of the eight stations, but with the help of the assigned district chiefs, everything was resolved.
When the trucks began to arrive, the first truck to be delivered was tank #2 assigned to Wakefield Station. The remainder of the fleet of trucks arrived a few at a time within a few weeks of each other. This marked a big affair for each station to pick up their trucks. Training had begun with instructors from L.S.U. Fireman Training (now L.S.U. Fire and Emergency Training Institute) months prior to the fire trucks arriving. Instructors traveled to the St. Francisville Station and offered Firefighter I certification classes to those who could attend. It should also be pointed out that Chief Jimmy Robinson was one of the Louisiana Fire Chiefs that was instrumental in establishing L.S.U. Firemen Training, which was tasked with assisting rural communities that depended on volunteer firefighters with training.
Later each station took the initiative for their training. The Star Hill Station and Elm Park Stations received extensive help from the Zachary Fire Department in addition to the training offered by St. Francisville Fire and L.S.U.. Training personnel to be firefighters is a daunting task and many people can be credited with providing training to our members in the early days. Fireman Mike Leming (Deputy Chief) and District Chief Ray Dreher (Retired) which were members of the Star Hill Station, successfully completed their firefighter I certification at L.S.U. Fireman Training Center. They returned to their station and began instructing fellow firemen to prepare them for the certification exam. A few months later L.S.U. Firemen gave an exam at the Tunica Station. Leming and Dreher took all of their active firemen to Tunica to take the test. At the conclusion of the test, all seven of their personnel passed the exam. Star Hill District Chief Dreher remembers, “it was most gratifying to see my fellow men do so well, especially to benefit our community.”
Department members worked meticulously to learn their new trade while performing life’s other obligations and duties. On April 19, 1988, the members of the Fire Protection District were thrust into service when a reported house fire on Hwy 10 required Engine 10 and Tank 3 to be put in-service. District firefighters were still equipping trucks and had not yet officially begun responding to calls. The firefighters’ efforts, though admirable, were in vain. On June 14, 1988 at 3:30 p.m., two years and four days after the West Feliciana Parish Police Jury authorized the Fire District’s creation, firefighters from the Rosemound and Spillman Fire Stations responded to a brush fire on Walker road. This was the first official call for Fire Protection District No. 1 of West Feliciana Parish.
Chief Jimmy Robinson continued to guide the Fire District until he became ill in 1991. Chief Robinson was methodical and was known to have a unique way of doing things. He would visit all stations on a weekly basis, inspect the station and leave a report of his findings to the district chief. He would also leave a manila envelope containing any information needed at the time. That was his routine. In 1991, Chief Robinson passed away after a short battle with cancer. District Chiefs Cecil Landry and Ray Dreher were close to Chief Robinson. Chief Dreher recalls that while visiting Chief Robinson shortly before his death, Chief Robinson remarked that his wishes were that the Fire Department and Parish would be capable of taking proper care of its people.
After Chief Robinson’s death, his son Tommy assumed the duties as Chief of the St. Francisville Fire Department as well as Fire Protection District No. 1. Chief Tommy Robinson was working for the Baton Rouge Fire Department in addition to these extra duties. He served as the Fire Protection District Fire Chief until 1997 when he stepped down and recommended the Fire Board hire a new chief. The Fire Protection District was growing and the position of chief was rapidly becoming a full-time job, especially for someone already working another full-time job. As a result, the Fire Board promoted then Assistant Chief Tommy Boyett to Fire Chief. Chief Boyett became the Fire District’s first full-time fire chief.
The Fire District continued to grow and include new services such as emergency medical response, vehicle extrication, hazardous material response, rope rescue, and public education. In 2009, the Fire Protection District completed a new administration and training center as well as a fire station in Hardwood. That same year, Chief Boyett retired and took a position with the West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office as the Director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Deputy Chief Mike Leming stepped in as interim Fire Chief from June 2009 until February 2010.
Today, James Wood serves as Fire Chief for West Feliciana Fire Protection District No. 1. The district has well equipped stations with qualified personnel on duty 24-7. The Fire District is always working to improve and to be an example of what volunteers can do for their community. The Fire District currently relies on approximately 95 volunteers and paid personnel to maintain stations and equipment and prepare for and respond to emergencies. The Fire District has developed short-term, mid-term and long-term goals to acquire new trucks and state-of-the art equipment, open a new fire station at The Bluffs, to provide intensive training for personnel, to educate the community through outreach programs and initiatives and to work with Parish officials and the Fire Board to improve the fire department services for the community at large.
As the WFFPD prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Chief Wood remarked that a firefighter is someone extraordinary and a volunteer firefighter is probably even more extraordinary. Their willingness to put others before themselves earns them the title of extraordinary. So many people have made this organization a success. I’m thankful that I live in a community where we have so many people that have chosen to serve their fellow man. I often comment to our personnel that Edmund Burke summed up what serving your community is all about. He said that ““all that evil needs to prevail is that good men do nothing”” and ““no man made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”” “Thank you to all those that serve or have served.”
The Parish has been well served by the WFFPD over the past 25 years. Many of the founding members of the fire department provide the backbone of the community. Former Star Hill District Chief Ray Dreher summed up his experiences by saying, “It has been my pleasure to have served as one of the original eight district chiefs serving this Parish as well as a term on the Fire Board. I salute all of you that made this dream come true.”