Central Fire Department – The Start of Something Big

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By Mia Freneaux

    Back in 1978, a young man named Chris Ferrara joined the recently formed Central Volunteer Fire Department.  He had just moved to Central with his young wife, his high school sweetheart from Redemptorist, and was working at Exxon through Local Union 198 as a pipe fitter/welder/fabricator.  “I got to know a few folks at Exxon who were members of the CVFD, and they encouraged me to join,” Chris reminisced recently, “One of them was Charles Mondrick, recently named Baton Rouge’s Interim Police Chief, who joined in 1977 and is still there today.  He is their longest serving volunteer!”   Chris recalled the efforts it took to keep the fire department afloat in those days. “We had no tax base,” he stated, “Everything was done with fund raisers.  Door-to-door collections, Barbeque dinners, Chicken dinners, bingo at St. Alphonsus, it was all strictly donations.  We’d hit one subdivision at a time.” 

    By 1981, it became evident CVFD needed another truck.  There was no money available, so with typical Central do-it-yourself spirit, Chris and fellow volunteer Richie Hayes faced the challenge.  Huey Kinchen lent his barn on Hooper Road, and Chris and Richie spent hours of their free time welding bits and pieces together.  “We had the chassis from a GMC tanker truck whose tank was bad.  Then we bought as salvage a wrecked fire truck from Alexandria.  It was really just a piece of a fire truck. We cut it apart and welded it to the chassis to make a new truck.  It took several months to build.  We had to mount the pump and the piping.  We fabricated the steel for the 1500 gallon water tank.  We’d be twelve to one o’clock in the morning rebuilding and repairing, then go off to our regular jobs a few hours later.  Huey was so gracious, he let us use the barn whenever we had time to.  That old truck lasted many years.” 

    Chris also remembered what hard work it was, as well. “We’d run up and down the roads at all hours of the night, then go to our regular jobs to pay our house notes.  When there was a fire, dispatch would call the chief, and the Women’s Auxiliary would start a phone chain.  Eventually, we had 5 pagers!  We had one ambulance to service all of Central, plus Pride and all the rural areas.  The Fire Department would often have to help them transport victims.  For all the hard work, though, we sure had good times.  I have great memories of cutting up after fires when we had to wash and clean the trucks – water fights, hose fights.  It was such a close knit organization.  It was a great experience for me from a volunteer standpoint.  We all spent so much time away from our families to help others in their time of need.  But people really appreciated us being there.”  Just a bit of perspective: out of all the major fire departments in this country, 70% are still staffed by volunteers.

Next Week: Ferrara Fire Apparatus – From Dream to Reality

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