Blazing a Trail

Quintessential Quizine
July 2, 2021
Celebrating Our Hometown Heroes
July 2, 2021

During finals week in May, Nicholls State University senior Joseph “Joe” Bourg was heading into his Marketing 300 exam in the Academic Testing Center when he received a report of a possible fire at the John A. Brady Jr. Residential Complex. Though he’d spent countless hours preparing for this final and had uncertainty on when or if he’d be able to make it up as the semester was ending, Joe didn’t hesitate to respond to the call. “I didn’t even have to say anything. I looked at my professor. He gave me a thumbs-up; I gave him a thumbs-up back. He said, ‘I’ll see you after,’” Joe remembers. 

Joe rushed to Bowie Road to assess the apartment fire, relay information to his team members who were en route and help in any other way he could. Fortunately, the incident caused no injuries. It produced moderate smoke from oil burning on the stove, forcing one appliance to be removed from the building.  

For Joe, a member of the Thibodaux Volunteer Fire Department (TVFD) and Nicholls State University Student Firefighter Association (SFA) President, responding to incidents while on campus is nothing new, but it being at such a crucial time in his studies was unique. “It’s happened a lot of times, but it’s never actually happened in the middle of Finals Week,” he says. “Being a senior and going through finals, there’s not a whole lot of things that you can miss. It’s the last possible day for finals. They’re [professors] not going to give a lot of exceptions.” In addition to occasionally confronting dangerous situations, that’s a risk the first lieutenant and his fellow Student Firefighter Association members are willing to take. 

Randy Pate, Department Captain and Chief for Life with TVFD, started the program a few years ago to recruit young adults and increase safety efforts at the university. “It just makes sense for us to recruit and be part of the campus that we support,” he notes. 

The association currently has 29 members, who each have their own reason for joining the fire department. Hailing from the Lafayette area, Joe wanted to know more about Thibodaux and meet new people. “I knew where I was going to school, and I knew a little bit about the area. But it was through the fire department that I met a lot of people,” he shares. “It really opened my eyes and allowed for me to receive more opportunities. Because of the fire department, I’m at where I’m at right now in life with my career.”

Grant Adams, a second lieutenant with TVFD, says he never expected to join the fire service, even though he is now a third-generation member. “My dad had been in it; my grandpa had been in it. And once my dad got back out of it, it was kind of one of those things of us joining to try to get him back into it —  getting the family all together to have fun, enjoy the fire department and help people around the town,” the Thibodaux native shares. 

A former high school football player from Assumption Parish, Grant Dupaty was looking for something to drive him after hanging up his cleats. “I didn’t really have anything that kept me on my toes,” he says. “[Being a firefighter] gives you something to be accountable for. The whole time [football players] are in school, they’re thinking about having to get their grades right and stuff so that they can like be able to play on the field. Well, I know I want to get my grades right so that I can show up for the fire call whenever I need to.” 

It’s not an easy duty to be a student firefighter, balancing weekly training, studying, extracurricular activities, work shifts, social life and classroom hours. But what helps, the three SFA members say, is their teachers’ understanding. “All my professors are very lenient,” says Adams, a junior studying computer information systems. “They tell us all the time, ‘If it was my house on fire, I definitely want you to leave my classroom instead of staying in class and letting my stuff burn.’” 

Joe recalls a time he had to respond to a car accident during a class. He was packing up his laptop to leave when his professor told him just to go and pick up his things at his office later. “In my four years at Nicholls, I’ve never had a professor that was not supportive and understanding of the situation I was in,” he says. 

“We tell our students not to abuse it. If it’s a structure fire, we need manpower. If it’s an alarm, maybe listen and see what it’s about before leaving class,” Randy adds. “We’ve been able to work with teachers and kind of tell them what we do and how we do things.”

The volunteer firefighters respond to calls primarily on and around the Nicholls campus. The angle is to become involved in all of the safety, training and other related matters happening on campus, with the supervision of TVFD, Joe explains. With the school being inside TVFD’s jurisdiction, the department oversees operations and works hand-in-hand with SFA firefighters, who are members of the department as well, he notes. 

And they must remain vigilant to react to incidents. “It’s 2:30 in the morning on a Monday, and I know I’ve got that 7:30 class. But if I know that I can handle it, then I’m going to go,” Joe says. “There are other obligations we have besides the fire service, but when we’re not at our busy times with our families and stuff like that, we make our priority the community.” 

Randy says the reception to the program, which is going on its third year, has been great. “We have a great working relationship with [Nicholls] President Jay Clune. He encourages the department on campus. They see the benefit of it to not only the campus but the community.” 

The Student Firefighter Association benefits its members, too. “Honestly, for me, it brought out more of a social side in me because I was more to myself and not really talkative with people. But with this, you have to communicate with people you may not know very well,” Adams shares.

For Dupaty, a sophomore biology major with a pre-medicine focus, the fire service increased his enthusiasm for his studies. “I started learning about the rescue side…when we respond to some medical calls and stuff to help out. As a pre-med major, that’s really interesting,” he says. “Once I started seeing that, I started realizing that maybe the medical field is for me, and I ended up finding an EMT course through some of the guys in the fire department.”

Randy encourages the youth to join the Nicholls State University Student Firefighter Association and the “Probie” program, which is for teens ages 16-17, to learn the skills needed to become a firefighter and acquire attributes that help in several aspects of life. One can visit or to learn more. 

“There’s no better feeling than when you’re going down the road and you got the sirens and the lights on. I love that,” Joe smiles. “But probably one of my favorite things is on an afternoon riding through campus and seeing kids that are walking with their parents freaking out about a firetruck. People get so pumped up to see firemen, and I’m so pumped up to be a fireman for people. I love doing things for people. To see people that excited to see us, I know we’re doing something right.”