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Gonzales celebrates 10 years along with September 11

In May 2001, Fire Chief Butch Browning came to Station 10 on Caldwell St., which then was the only station, for his first day of work at the newly formed Gonzales Fire Department.  Men who went to sleep the night before as volunteers came to work as professional firefighters.  None of them would have imagined that only a few months after starting in the fire service, their profession would change forever.  In the aftermath of those weeks immediately following the September 11th tragedy, the Gonzales Fire Department was already hard at work participating in the Bucks for Trucks program.  This program was a plan to raise money to pay for a firetruck, to be built by Fererra Fire Apparatus in Holden, Louisiana for the Fire Department of New York.  The money was raised, relationships were forged and in December 2001 the Spirit of Louisiana was delivered to Engine Company 283 in Brooklyn.  The engine was used and used well.  When hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans the great City of New York decided that the Spirit, which had been given to them in their most desperate hour, needed to go home.  In 2005 the Spirit of Louisiana was sent back to New Orleans where it served another three years before being retired to the Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office.  The unit was fully refurbished and now serves as a ceremonial piece, attending parades and festivities all around the state.     

It seems as if it was only a short time ago, but things have changed so much.  When Gonzales started, we had nine full-time employees, one station and one front-line Engine Company with a PIAL rating of five.  Ten short years later, now under the leadership of Fire Chief Tracey Normand, we employ 27 full-time employees, providing nine personnel on duty 24-7-365.  We have added one station, an engine, an aerial, three ambulances, a specialized urban search and rescue vehicle and several other special operations vehicles and trailers.  We now have functional teams in technical rescue such as high angle rescue, confined space rescue and trench collapse rescue, and we have a trained dive rescue and recovery team.  We serve the city each day with no less than two paramedics on duty, making us one of the few fire departments in the state to provide advanced lifesaving techniques and emergency transport to the citizens of Gonzales.  The taxpayers of Gonzales saw a drop in homeowners insurance in 2003 when our fire service rating improved to a two.  We have maintained and improved in many ways in the last decade.  The Gonzales Fire Department has grown as the fire service has grown.  Everyone has benefitted from the lessons learned and sacrifices made on that fateful September morning.  We are more informed and better trained.  We are always prepared and diligently aware.  The threats are still real, and we have to be mindful during every minute of every shift.  The tragedy of the loss is compounded if we don't study and learn from it.  We have.  The tragedy of the loss is disrespected if we don't strive to train and get better.  We will.  The The tragedy of the loss means nothing if we forget.  We have not and we will not.

On the night of September 8th, GFD employees placed 343 flags in the front yard of the station.  In the shadow of the station flag flying at half mast each flag represents something lost.  A father, a brother, a mother, a sister perhaps a son or a daughter.  Every flag represents a chance.  Each and every flag represents a firefighter who gave other people a chance to live.  We continue to serve, ever hopeful that the sacrifices of those who came before us as well as those who currently fight for us are not taken for granted. 

On the ten year anniversary of the Gonzales Fire Department, we look back on a decade of continued improvement in emergency services in our great city.  We also look back on the day that made it all different, and we never forget.


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