Merritt “Buddy” Weems recently celebrated 40 years of service to the Luling Volunteer Fire Department. And while that is quite an accomplishment on its own, what may be even more remarkable is that he has had the distinct experience of serving those years alongside the people he loves the most – his wife Susan and two sons Jeff and Jody.
Buddy and Susan raised their two sons in Luling, and Buddy joined the Luling Volunteer Fire Department forty years ago after losing one of his best friends to a house fire.
The Weems’ home was right across the street from their second home – the fire station.
Jeff said his father joining the department set in motion a chain of public service in the family.
“It unknowingly setting off a fire in me that made emergency services my passion,” Jeff said of Buddy becoming a firefighter. “Shortly after, my mom joined as a dispatcher. Before 911, volunteers answered the phone at their homes when someone called the fire department for an emergency.”
Jeff and Jody said seeing their parents serve the community in such a powerful way from a young age solidified their passion for public service.
“The fire phone would ring and my mom would take the call, get on the radio and set the tones off,” Jeff said. “Then dad would run out the door, fire gear in hand, to the fire department across the street and get the fire truck started. By that time other firefighters started getting there, and they’d jump in and get going with the lights flashing and sirens wailing … you could feel their adrenaline from across the street.”
Jeff said his dad would come home a couple hours later, smelling of smoke and sweat, and tell the family telling the most amazing stories of fighting a huge house fire or crawling into a mangled car to try to get people out alive.
“It was amazing,” Jeff said. “It was the greatest show on earth to me. I couldn’t wait until I grew up to be a part of that. There wasn’t a movie or story line that could come close to beating my excitement for it. As a kid, I didn’t watch superhero shows or read comic books because I was surrounded by heroes every day … and I still am today.”
Both Jody and Jeff joined the junior fire department as teenagers. Growing up they also saw their parents serve in stints with St. Charles Parish EMS and the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Buddy said he had no idea his family would be so involved when he first joined the department.
“A few months after I was in the department, they were looking for an additional dispatcher and I ask my wife if she would be interested,” Buddy said. “She said she would. David ‘Whip’ and Linda Zeringue were the dispatchers for the fire department and Susan became a dispatcher.”
Buddy said it was very rewarding, as well as nerve-wracking, to have his entire family involved.
“Nerve-wracking because my kids were putting themselves in danger,” he said. “My kids both had their CPR certification by the time they were 9 and 10 years old. You really don’t understand how mentally hard it is on a person to watch their kids go into a burning building and know what they’re experiencing from what you have experienced. We were a family of fire fighters.”
Jeff and Jody also took their passion for public service and parlayed it into many roles as first responders.
“I have been serving my community, my parish, and my state in one form or the other ever since joining the fire department in 1994,” Jeff said. “I have worked and learned from some of the most amazing men and women on Earth, and that’s all thanks to my dad and my mom.”
Jeff became an EMT in 1999 and paramedic in 2007. He worked around the state as an EMS from 2002-2019 and in 2018 started working as a paramedic and safety specialist. In 2019 he began working part time as a death investigator at St. Charles Parish Coroner’s Office.
“Last year, after a 10 year hiatus, I rejoined the Luling Volunteer Fire Department,” he said. “We urge people to volunteer. As our area grows our call volume grows as well, which requires more volunteers. All the volunteers have full-time jobs and families as well, so we’re all working on the limited time we have to give to our community. We have a big need for volunteers who are willing to learn and give their time to serve our community.”
Jody devoted approximately 13 years of service to the fire department before pivoting to police work.
“My passion for service changed in my late teens after hearing the stories my dad told of his experiences as a reserve deputy with St. Charles Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “I was drawn to it and it fit my personality better. After college, I was hired as a full-time deputy at the sheriff’s office in 2002. Nearly twenty years later, I’m still with the sheriff’s office and still have the same passion and drive for the job and my community.”
Susan will celebrate her 40 years with the fire department in a few months. She and Buddy are currently work as support personnel in the fire department as Buddy recovers from two 2019 cancer diagnoses and surgeries.
Buddy said his 40 years with the fire department have meant unrivaled devotion to service.
“Every Monday night we have a meeting,” he said. “The first Monday is individual station meetings and the second Monday we have business meetings and then the rest of the month we have training … but most Monday nights for the last 40 years I have given up for the fire department. And that’s not to mention fire calls, special training and working a full- time job. On numerous holidays, birthdays and special events we have gotten fire calls just as we had sat down to eat. We had to tell everyone at the table we will be back.”
Buddy said he is especially proud of getting the first AED program to the fire departments in the parish, and that people love to ask questions when they hear of where he volunteers.
“They say, ‘I bet you’ve seen some stuff,’ and I say, ‘Yeah, we’ve seen stuff that everybody else doesn’t want to see,’” Buddy said. “When you see 100 people running out of a burning building and you see ten people fighting to get in the door, there’s something wrong with those ten people.”
Buddy said because of the nature of the job, he and his family are present on what is either the worst or best day of someone’s life. And while he has seen his share of death, Buddy has also been able to save people’s lives through administering CPR and helped deliver 12 babies.
And then there have been the calls that fall in between the extraordinary or tragic.
“It’s a great feeling to come in and say, ‘No, your child is just smoking in the attic … the house is not on fire,’” Buddy said laughing.