Memories of the Central Volunteer Fire Department

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Jim and Charlotte Fergerson, their daughter Alicia, and Grover and Marilyn Stephens graciously granted an interview on July 25, 2011.  Here were some of the memories they shared about the early days of the CVFD.

At Christmas time, a member of the Fire Department would dress as Santa Claus.  Parents would bring a wrapped gift to the firehouse for their child.  The parents would slip the gift to someone who would put it in a big bag and then Santa would then ride up to the station on the truck and bring the “gifts” to the children. Alicia remembered running up to grab her gift and running away, because Santa was so scary to her!   The Fire Department would also drive around the city with Santa on top and call to the children.  The Fire Department always had a Christmas celebration, at which time an award would be given to the unfortunate firefighter who pulled the most bone headed stunt during the year.  It was called the “Who Done It” Award. Grover good naturedly remembered the little model they made of the incident when he parked his car on the newly sodded Comite levy, only to watch it slide down the sod and almost end up in the river.  Then there was the award given another firefighter for trying to pull the 1947 American LaFrance, with a full tank, up the hill from the Stephens’ home (it had a dead battery) with a rope and a little sedan.  Fire Chief Huey Kinchen was awarded a compass after the he got the Brownsfield fire chief lost trying to get back from a fire that burned a wooden church in Chaneyville. Another firefighter was given the award for mistaking a kitchen fire for a light bulb left on over a sink, yet another for setting his neighbor’s boat cover on fire.  “We had a lot of fun,” said Grover.  Santa would also appear in the CABA (now Central Chamber of Commerce) Christmas Parade. 

Jim was the secretary for the first 13 years.  He kept a file cabinet in the foyer of his house that had all the station records in it.  He and Charlotte remembered filling out the paperwork to get the Station’s non-profit status and typing all the minutes of every meeting on an old Royal Portable Manual typewriter Charlotte had had since the 9th grade.

As an effort to raise money, a letter was sent to every household in Central asking for a $10 donation.  The volunteers and Ladies’ Auxiliary then walked every street in Central collecting it.  Charlotte was the only casualty, suffering a dog bite.  Jim remembered a grandma and grandpa coming out of their house with $5, and the grandchildren, whom they were raising, coming out with their hands full of their piggy bank money.   A well to do individual gave Huey Kinchen 50 cents, at which Huey responded, “Keep it, you apparently need it more than we do!”  Charles O’Neal was the treasurer for many years.  He kept index cards on every resident in Central, noting how much money they’d given each year.  He made special boxes to keep the cards in.  “He was the best I’d ever seen,” remembered Grover. 

For the one year anniversary they held a Cochon de Lait and presented Chief L. J. Robinson the pig’s head, all in good fun.  Another fun memory was firefighters Jim Lorio and John Sanchez manning a hose at a fire at a carpet warehouse.  “It was like Mutt and Jeff, Jim was 6’9”, John was about 5’5”,” smiled Grover. Another funny memory was the newly minted volunteers running off to fight a barn fire, only to have Mr. Buhler tell them, “Wait! I WANT it to burn!”

“We also had the distinction of never having lost a slab,” Jim joked.

For uniforms, the volunteers bought maroon polyester pants and white shirts with patches someone made for them.  Their red jump suits also sported patches sewn on by their wives.  “Fortunately, the polyester pants were only for dress uniform,” Charlotte smiled.

All the local ministers were aware, if the pagers went off, people were going to go – even in the middle of the sermon.  The volunteers worked floods, tornadoes, wrecks.  They remembered when the flooding in the early 80’s went over the railroad trestle on Frenchtown Road.  One man had refused to evacuate, even when told the flood was coming.  He started phoning that evening, saying he was having to go upstairs, as the floodwater was coming in his house.  He called a while later to say he was having to stand on a table on the second floor, and the water was still rising.  Then he phoned to say he was going on the roof and to come get him!  The sheriff sent an army duck, but it got stuck between trees.  A bass boat got flipped by the strong current.  Finally a gentleman came down the Amite to rescue him.  A fire started during that same flood at a house on Greenwell Springs Road.  The water was up to the top of the windows.  It burned down to the flood line because they couldn’t reach it to put it out.  They remembered the tornado that hit Blackwater Road and having to be called out for rescue.  Another incident they responded to was a car that had flipped in the ditch on Flannery Road.  They could hear a man yelling, but couldn’t find him.  They finally found him under the upside down car, completely unharmed in the mud.

The worst fire in memory was the one on Thibodeaux Road.  They pumped 40,000 gallons of water out of Bellingrath alone according to the water department.  “That was a fire and a half!,” Grover said.

Another fire was on Hooper Road on an extremely foggy night.  A huge “Boom!” alerted a motorist who called the fire department.  The fire had vented thru the roof.  Grover was so busy that he didn’t realize his helmet was on backwards till someone teased him later about looking like a duck.  They fought that fire for over 4 hours. 

Grover remembered with a shudder a bad fire on Liberty Road.  “There were so many trees.  We were short staffed and took 3 of the junior firefighters with us.  The fire got so bad I couldn’t find the boys.  I get cold chills to this day.  That fire got out of control on us that night.”  Many times there were so few firemen available that junior firemen were called in to help with equipment, but never were they allowed to actually fight a fire.

Thankfully, the only injury received by a firefighter in all that time was when Bobby (called “Crazy” by his friends) Craven fell through the roof of a burning house on Dyer Road.  He received some1st degree burns. Bobby was also the first paid firefighter Central could boast, the second was Tommy LeSage and then they hired John Moak who stayed with the department until his retirement.

Goose Carroll, fire chief at Baker and LSU Director of the Fire School, and John Parker were the trainers for the volunteers.  All volunteers took courses at LSU.  They were all at least certified in Advanced First Aide.  And all this done on their FREE TIME after they came home from their regular jobs!  “The Fire Department wouldn’t be what it is today if not for all those old fellows who started with nothing.  Most are no longer here,” said Grover.

Charlotte remembered the “saddest sound I ever heard. It was at LJ Robinson’s funeral at Zoar Baptist.  Surrounded by his honor guard, at the time the funeral was to start, every firefighter’s pager in the church went off – “Last call for Chief Robinson.”

“Why would anyone be a firefighter?” Grover’s granddaughter, Victoria Hudson, asked him.  “I guess because you just want to help,” he replied.

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