In praise of firefighters

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The cops have been grabbing all the headlines lately, especially in response to some very tragic things that have occurred, and the outpouring of love for them from members of this community is nothing less than astounding.

The cops will also be the first to tell you that there are other first responders who, in very different ways, do the impossible because someone has to. And now is as good a time as any to remember the other emergency workers, the ones who battle a very different enemy than crime, but which can be just as deadly and devastating.

The Bayou Cane Fire Protection District protects some of the most financially valuable real estate in Terrebonne Parish in addition to the invaluable multitude of human lives.

Proof of their worth was evident Sunday morning, as smoke billowed from a burning house in a Houma subdivision.

The Bayou Cane Fire District scrambled to the alarm and the beauty of the operation was that they did as they are trained to do, but don’t get much of a chance to practice in reality, setting up their attack and bravely moving in to vanquish the roiling flames, knocking them down rapidly.

The attack truck, Engine 11, glided to a stop, and as the hydrant connection was made there was Capt. Chris Melancon, a 7-year veteran, leading from the front as all fire service line officers do. In his hands was a hand-line 1 ¾ inches around, with a smooth-bore nozzle that can have a kick like a Missouri mule. Right behind him was Landon Lebouef, still a rookie but less of one today. They crouched in the face of the enemy, making entry through a door of the house, and braced for the rush of water, vision obscured by smoke and the protective face-masks that help them breathe air where there is none, feeling the rush of heat moving in for the kill like the pros that they are.

While they made the first stab at the enemy, other firefighters set the ladders up on the side of the house for the roof venting that might be needed, as other apparatus rolled up the scene. And in fifteen minutes they had it all knocked down, minimizing the damage to the house involved and preventing a spread to those nearby.

It is a conundrum of firefighting that the most important fire you fight is the one you never have to encounter, and toward this end the chief of the Bayou Cane District, Ken Himel, coordinates a lot of education programs. When you do such a good job preventing fires you become invisible except for the wrecks and medical calls, until the alarm sounds like this one and you put into practice what you train for on a regular basis.

In the places where working fires are common the firefighters get on-the-job training every day almost giving them lots of situations to critique and learn from. But here it is different, so while you are preventing fires you train so that all this goes off like clockwork. Just a few weeks ago firefighters – the Bayou Cane guys among them – were training at the site of the old Southdown Elementary School, using it as a learning ground. And it paid off.

The K Street fire resulted in injuries to a mother and her daughter, who got themselves out quickly enough to stave off greater tragedy, and nobody wants to see a finger burn from a fire if it can be helped. The cause was an unattended candle, which means more education is ever needed.

But the focus must be on the positive in this situation, and there is nothing more positive than the work that has been done for days and months and years before this fire, the training that went into this one crucial set of minutes.

And so we take a moment to praise those who do this often invisible job those who stand ready to protect whenever the protection is needed. We thank them, and we wish them well, rookies, veterans, and the chiefs and assistant chiefs. Because they can never be thanked enough. •