PORT ALLEN, LA (WAFB) - A massive fire broke out in 1918 in Port Allen, and because there was no local fire protection at the time, firefighters from Baton Rouge were ferried in but the blaze spread to eight blocks before it was under control.
Nearly two decades later, Port Allen decided they needed their own protection.
"The volunteer fire department came about in 1935," said Port Allen Fire Department's Rick Boudreaux.
That volunteer fire department made 80 years on Wednesday, March 11. Port Allen did not get a department with paid fire fighters until the 50s. Before then and even now, volunteer firefighters have been the backbone of department.
"85% of the state has volunteer fire departments," said West Baton Rouge Fire Chief Kenny Hunts.
Across Louisiana, there are about 16,000 firefighters in the state. Of those, 8,500 are active volunteer firefighters. Those are the ones who actually go inside the homes and fight the fires. On top of that, another 3,000 provide volunteer support.
"Five years ago, I had about 30 on the roster. 30 volunteer firefighters on the roster that I could really rely on and today, I'm down to somewhere between 12-15," said Erwinville Fire District's Robby Smith.
Smith is the only paid firefighter on the north end of the parish. The rest are contract firefighters from other parishes or volunteers.
Like Erwinville, Port Allen had 33 volunteers in 1987. Now, they're down to 13.
"Everybody in our parish: Addis, Brusly, Port Allen, Lobdell, Rosehill, Erwinville. There are six departments that would love to see more volunteers come in," said Chief Hunts.
Chief Hunts said age is a major factor now. Thirty years ago, the average age of a volunteer was 25. Now, it's about 43. He said they need young men and women out of high school to step up because volunteers are who really keep fires under control.
"Without it, when you respond to a structural fire in Port Allen, you would have three on duty firefighters, the two engines and the heavy rescue. The volunteers have to come in and supplement that manpower," said Boudreaux.
Currently, response times are not affected and the insurance rating is a class 2 in Port Allen.
If you would like to apply to be a volunteer firefighter, call the Port Allen Fire Station at 225-346-5676.