St. Charles Herald-Guide

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By Caleb Frey - June 6, 2007

With insurance rates going up in St. Charles Parish due, in part, to a shortage of firefighters, the Hahnville Volunteer Fire Department is working to “flesh out its ranks” with a special firefighting training course for teens at Hahnville High.

"It appears as of right now we will be included in the school's master schedule," said Dennis Robbins, president of the Hahnville VFD.

"It's a win-win-win situation and I think it will be beneficial for the kids, the school and the community."

The kids who elect to participate in the class will receive the same number of credit hours as they would for any other elective course.

And the training will be both realistic and rigorous - a shortened version of the Firefighter I curriculum that all professional firefighters complete.

"The kids get experience and it if they like what they're doing they can go on to make a career out of it," Robbins said.

Students will learn the ins-and outs of a firefighters gear: how to use it and store it. They also will drill in simulated rescue situations.

One of the training scenarios requires the firefighters to dress in full gear and breathe through an oxygen tank while they crawl through a smoke-filled passageway - the kind they might have to navigate on hands and knees in a collapsed house.

Scary? You bet. But Robbins says the training is monitored by professionals and go off without a hitch.

"Safety is always the key," Robbins said.

The department needs about $2,000 to be able to fund the class at Hahnville and officials are still finalizing the details with the school system.

Luling Fire Station Capt. Andrew MetreJean said he hopes the class will take off.

"For years the VFD numbers have been dropping and a lot of people just aren't getting involved," MetreJean said.

"This could be a great way to get new recruits while the kids learn life-saving techniques and have fun at the same time."

Hahnville boasts a “3 Fire Rating” from the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana. The ratings range from 1 to 10, with 10 being the lowest - so Hahnville is an upper tier department.

The rating affects the premiums that homeowners pay for fire insurance.

New rankings have Norco with a 5 Fire Rating and Paradis and Luling ranked as 4s. The difference of a point or two can can lead to an increase of about $100 a year on insurance premiums, Fireman's Association treasurer Reggie Gaubert said.

He said having a functioning fire station affects everyone in the vicinity.

"For a volunteer fire department to have a 3 Rating, that's outstanding - but times are changing and they insurance commission wants different things from us," Gaubert said.

"They want additional fire stations, but there are a lot of things that go along with a new station. You can’t just put a station somewhere and be done with it. You need manpower, training, money."

Junior firefighters who go on to become full-fledged firefighters can help with the manpower. Junior firefighters must be at least 14.

Write to Caleb Frey at calebf@heraldguide.com

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Photo by Caleb Frey