The Shreveport Fire Department wears a lot of hats. Its nationally recognized Communications Division is charged with answering around 22,000 9-1-1 calls each month and routing them to the proper station, police or other city authority. More than 600 firefighters and EMS crew members respond to nearly 40,000 actual incidents from Shreveport’s 22 fire stations, according to the department’s 2015 Annual Report.
Although the department is responsible for water rescue, aviation safety, fire prevention education, inspections and investigations, the most visible presence and active force remains at the neighborhood stations. Some of those stations have been operating in lessthan-ideal conditions as buildings age, equipment becomes outdated and quicker routes open up to serve their designated areas.
One of the city’s busiest, Station 17, serves Southwest Shreveport. The 15 firefighters and EMS medics assigned to the station responded to more than 3,000 incidents in 2015. Built in 1970, the rundown building long ago outlived its usefulness. Floors are missing linoleum tiles, and plywood covers areas where the floor is too damaged to support firefighters, whose gear can weigh 50 pounds.
Cpt. Stacy McDaniel, the station’s only female, has been crew chief of the 17/C shift for 10 years and served there early in her career. She grew up and still lives in Southern Hills, the area covered by Station 17. She said in addition to better living and safer conditions, services to the community will be improved as a ladder truck is added and the station moves to Baird Road instead of its current location off Mansfield Road, where heavy traffic can impede response times.
“The captain is mainly responsible for sizing up situations and making sure that the service provided by the fire department is the service you would provide for your own family,” McDaniel said. “Sometimes, you only get about 10 seconds to make that decision, and you better be ready to roll with it.”
The three crews at No. 17 sleep in a couple of open rooms like kids at summer camp, stripping beds as they leave so the next shift can make them up to sleep. The furniture is run down, cabinet doors are damaged, all shifts share the same residential refrigerator to store the food they furnish to cook together for their meals together in a cramped, overcrowded kitchen, and the storage space is minimal.
“It was a house that has been added on to, and it needs more renovation than is feasible to put the money into,” said Charles J. “Skip” Pinkston, the department’s chief of special operations and safety.
“The new fire station will have three drive-thru bays, individual bedrooms, men and women’s bathroom facilities, a dedicated exercise room, ventilated bunker, gear storage area, an area dedicated to cleaning fire gear, LED lighting, a stainless-steel kitchen, and the floors will be a maintenance-free, dyed concrete,” said Pinkston.
The crews’ camaraderie helped them live with the station’s cramped, deteriorating conditions and the lack of privacy, but that has not been the primary concern.
“One of the biggest challenges is the increased rate of cancer,” said Pinkston. Studies conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that rates of respiratory, digestive and urinary cancers were higher than the general population, and the rate of “mesothelioma (was) two times greater than the rate in the U.S. population as a whole,” according to www. www.cdc.gov/niosh/.
Shreveport architect Brian L. McNew has renovated eight stations and designed 17 new ones in Caddo, DeSoto, Plaquemine and Bienville parishes to make them livable and safe living and work spaces. Modern stations have more reliable truck doors and vehicle exhaust systems “to remove exhaust from trucks when they are idling in the engine bay or when they start to go to a call” and improved equipment cleaning methods to remove and control toxic materials brought back to the station on the crews and equipment to “create a healthy work environment” through better ventilation and drainage, said McNew.
Project architect Russell G. DeLancy of SPAR’s Planning and Development Division and Cochran Construction Company Inc. are charged with building the new station, which is expected to open in the fall. An identical station will be built to serve the Greenwood Road area, said Pinkston.
– Kathleen Ward