Lockport firefighter leaves community with so much

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After 47 years of service, Harold “Bobby” Arabie Jr. received his final radio call from the Lockport Volunteer Fire Department Wednesday.

He didn’t answer.

It’s the typical acknowledgement of a firefighter who has passed on.

But Arabie certainly wasn’t your typical firefighter.

“Bobby had a passion for serving the community like no one I’ve ever seen. He never wavered,” Lockport Volunteer Fire Chief Armand Autin said. “It’s really hard to put into words what the guy meant to the community and the entire region in terms of serving because with his passion for always serving – a lot of firefighters serving as special volunteers, some respond to just fires, some respond to just emergencies – he responded to everything.”

After a brief battle with cancer, Arabie died at age 65. Many came to pay their respects to the long-time deputy chief, treasurer of the Lafourche Fire Chiefs Association and Lafourche Parish Government employee as he was honored with a fireman’s funeral and a 21-gun salute commemorating his time in the Navy.

“In the eulogy I said, ‘Bobby, through your vision and through your leadership and you pushing us over these years, we’ve got it now. We’re in good shape. You had the right ideas, the right visions on equipment, apparatus, direction for the department to take. We have it. You left the department in good hands, and we’re ready to respond,’” Autin said.

Arabie served as deputy fire chief since 1996. Before that he served as the department’s very first rescue chief.

“He did a great job for me in the 14 years I was fire chief,” said former Lockport Volunteer Fire Department chief Richard Hebert, who made Arabie the first rescue chief. “I didn’t have to worry about the rescue unit. He really knew how to handle it, and it was a relief for me to have him as rescue chief.”

Carl Plaisance, fellow former Lockport Volunteer Fire Department chief who promoted Arabie to deputy fire chief, gave him possibly the best compliment a firefighter could receive.

“He knew what he was doing. He knew his stuff. He’s a guy that you’d want to go into a fire with cause you knew you’d come out safe,” Plaisance said.

This knack for always making the right call in a real-time, pressure-packed situation came from Arabie’s dedication to coming as close to perfecting the craft as possible.

“He was a lifetime member of the Louisiana State Fireman’s Association. He attended their conferences annually. He was a member of the Louisiana State Fire Chief’s Association, which he also attended conferences because he wanted as much knowledge as he could to make the right decision,” Autin said. “He never missed a training, never missed a meeting, board meeting, general membership meeting, meetings in other organizations, he was so involved.”

Arabie’s passion for firefighting ruffled some feathers, according to Autin, but it was all in the name of safety.

“He was one of those guys that perhaps didn’t get along with everybody, kind of rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, the guy was the biggest pain in the butt you could ever imagine but the best friend you could ever have,” Autin said.

Arabie’s persistence led to better-trained firefighters and even better equipment for the firefighters to use.

That equipment included a state of the art 2002 International Rescue Truck, which Arabie specked out about a decade ago. That very truck has been dedicated to Arabie since his passing, and it held his remains while leading more than 20 fire department units in his funeral procession last Wednesday.

Often by demanding to use tools he already owned rather than hiring contractors, Arabie was adamant that the fire department constantly refurbish its equipment.

The most notable example came in the form of a 1951 fire unit, which had been sitting idle in the Mathews station for about 25 years, according to Autin.

“There were talks of scrapping it or selling it, trying to get rid of it and he was adamant about us not getting rid of that thing and putting it back in service as a parade unit – something that we could have pride in that was from the older days,” Autin said.

Instead, tireless work from Arabie and others led to the unit rolling for the first time in more than two decades at the 2013 Independence Day Parade in Houma.

“Once we got it running, we brought it to his house and he was just tremendously proud of seeing that unit back running,” Autin said. “The guy was very pushy when it came to keeping stuff running and refurbishing stuff and making sure that we had the best and the greatest. Fortunately he left us in good hands with his vision and his drive and his commitment to service selflessly.”

Arabie leaves behind his wife, mother and three children.

Former Fire Chief Carl Plaisance holds the remains of Asst. Chief Harold “Bobby” Arabie Jr while leading the funeral procession that went from Lockport Fire Central to St. Hilary Church in Raceland. The funeral procession consisted of more than 20 fire department units from throughout the parish and surrounding areas and was escorted by Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Department and the Lockport Police Department.