DENHAM SPRINGS, LA (WAFB) - "Welcome to Firehouse!" It's a familiar refrain to anyone who has ever eaten at one of the three Firehouse Subs locations in the capital area.
"Number 5 -- turkey bacon ranch." Kelly LeFort's voice cuts through the welcoming call and the din of the lunch crowd. "Medium or large?" The manager of the Denham Springs store orchestrates a symphony of sounds and smells from behind her cash register. "That comes with mayo and Sweet Baby Ray's sauce."
She's not just feeding the hungry hoards that crowd her counter, she's actually helping save lives with the question she asks after each order is complete: "Would you like to round up?"
Customers can round the price of their sub up to the next dollar as a contribution to Firehouse Subs' Public Safety Foundation. "The program is designed to give back to the community through helping first responders save lives," says Shawn McWaters, area representative for Firehouse Subs in Louisiana.
The program was started by Firehouse founders, Chris and Robin Sorenson, after feeding first responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Along with rounding up, the chain offers customers the empty buckets their pickles are stored in for just $2.
"They smell like pickles," jokes Robin Sorenson. "For $5, we'll clean them."
"To be able to communicate that with our guests, that your pennies save lives," says Denham franchise owner, Patrick Lee, "A lot of them are receptive to it."
Since it's inception in 2005, the foundation has bought more than $25 million worth of gear for first responders around the country. Tuesday, the foundation was back on the Gulf Coast, where it was conceived, helping firefighters who lost gear to the August floods.
Robin Sorensen, along with franchisees from around the state, presented grants totaling more than $177,000 to seven local fire departments, including:
- Central Fire Protection Dist. 4: $30,618 for a Super Duty Ford van to replace one damaged during storm rescues
- Denham Springs Fire Dept.: $40,000 to purchase new air packs to replace those destroyed by the flood
- Scott Fire Dept.: $12,500 for thermal imaging cameras
- Tangipahoa Fire Dist. 2: $42,330 for two water rescue boats
- Terrebonne Parish Fire Protection Distroct No. 4A: $20,721 for self-contained breathing apparatus
- St. Tammany Fire Dist. 3: $15,963 for a CPR device
- St. Tammany Fire Dist. 5: $15,012 for automated external defibrillators on its engines and squad trucks
Denham Springs Fire Chief Melvin Wheat says the donation comes just in time for his department. "Since the flood of August 2016, we've been knocked down, the wind had been knocked out of our sails drastically. This is gonna' be a big big plus."
Lee is just happy he and his stores were a part of it. "To be part of something that can help save lives, I know it sounds simple, but it really rests in your heart. It really means something."
Back at the store, LeFort will continue asking customers to round up and buy pickle buckets that might one day save a life.