Marrero-Harvey Volunteer Fire Department, oral history
Chief Don Robertson On Tape April 24th 2007 The Marrero-Harvey Volunteer Fire Department Jason Poyadou Jason: Ok. To start off, I'm going to ask you a couple of questions. When was the FD started? Chief Don: Established 1931, unknown exact day Jason: Who were the original charter members? Chief Don: I think the original charter had actually 12 members. From the charter members there were only 4 active members. Duffy Barrios, Kasper Dubries, Roy Duperson, 4th Unknown for now. Jason: Why was the FD started? Chief Don: The Volunteer Company was started because on the west bank of Jefferson Parish there were only 2 companies, 1- Davy Crockett in Gretna and 2 - City of Westwego. Meant all unincorporated JP had no protection. The JP water co. Dist.2 (Corner of Ave. D and West bank Expy) started a FD with their own paid employees. 1931 Police Jury decided to est. a FD. In unincorporated JP which became Marrero-Harvey FD. Jason: What was the terrain like back in the 1930's. Chief Don: The west bank expressway was a gravel road and there was nothing south of it Gretna - Westwego. Although Marrero-Harvey a large area, wasn't that large then. Jason: Umm. Where was the original location of the FD. Chief Don: The Original location was at 7th and Ave. D. Location still there but no longer a fire house. There until 1970's. Jason: When did the FD purchase their first truck. Chief Don: It was a 1965 GMC pumper, that the civil defense (now emergency mgt.) helped the FD purchase Jason: Before then, what did the FD use? Chief Don: They did have some motorized Fire Apparatuses. Possibly donated from the city of New Orleans or other Fire Co Jason: Speaking of the Department, its History and all, Is there any involvement in the community? Chief Don: The Fire Co. is very very involved in the community. With all of the new rules and regulations, we provide first line of Defense in JP. We have evolved from the days with 1 fire engine to 3 fire stations, 20 paid employees, 35 volunteers, 11 trucks - pumpers, rescue units, 2 support vehicles and a utility vehicle. Anything that the community asks the F.D. we do whatever we can. Our money comes from the tax payers and we do whatever we can for them. Jason: Ok, umm, are ya'll involved in charities, organizations, ect? Do ya'll make your presence known here, or go to a school to educate children? Chief Don: We do that a lot. We are non-profit so we can not give monetary donations. But we do public education from pre-K to seniors in high school. For example: Learn not to Burn, crawl low in smoke to educate younger children about fires then how to escape a fire, cook safely. We have a fire prevention division go to all schools at least once a year. Industrial classes, lots of programs. We are in the community and it allows us to become familiar with as many buildings as possible. Our protection area runs from - Harvey Canal - Marrero Rd. and from River to Lapalco Blvd. in that are 9 High Rise Buildings, and a vast diverse area from industrial, lower class housing, gated communities, hospitals. Jason: Ok and you have actually mentioned this before, this transition from where it was to where it is now. Anything else that you can improvise on as to how the FD got to be what it is today? How did yal get to where yal are now? Chief Don: The reason the MHVFD is where it is now, which I think is one of the greatest achievements because we are one of the better FD on the West Bank. And Ugh. From my existence in the FD in the early 70's people of high rank before me like chief Leblanc and you grandfather ( Duffy Barrios) a charter member and Every rank in the FD. The Davy Crocket FD had the only air apparatus at that time. A cost in those days about $50,000.00. Today, The MHVFD has a 100ft. apparatus at the cost of about a million dollars. In the early 60's went to the old NO. Public service and purchased a flat bed truck into an air apparatus. Goes to show you haw much the improvised and bought equipment that had nothing to do with fires into a fire engine. That I believe, That leadership which we took over from the founding fathers is why we are so good today. And a quick note, The FD is rated by an insurance Bureau - Property Insurance Associations of Louisiana. Category from class 10 - 1. 10 being the worst and 1 the best. Chief Don: When I started in the 70's, we were a class 5, or course coming from a class 8 or 9. and Now I am very proud no announce that we are a class 2 FD. Just goes to show you haw much we have improved over the years. Jason: What do they base the grading scale on? Chief Don: They base that on everything imaginable about the fire department and our materials in the community. From the call - fighting the fire. To be a class 2 is a very good achievement. Jason: Ok umm. Ok this is not to knock any other FD. Every fire fighter is great, but what distinguishes yal from other Departments on the West Bank? Chief Don: I think probably our presence in the community. Actually, Every FD except from those Original 2, originated out of Marrero- Harvey. As our district got larger we couldn't handle it so we developed other companies. Again being the first on is the age and our abilities to have gotten from where we were to where we are now. Jason: That's great. Umm.. Hurricane Katrina. What was yal involvement? Chief Don: The storm was a very tough time for everyone. From the day of the storm, our paid members stayed at WJMC and moved out to help. We actually lost 2 stations, but we assisted the community. We drove down every street in the 8th district, providing citizens with whatever we could. We also assisted the parish in numerous tasks. Getting supplies, fuel, for hospitals, homes, and the parish. For about 2 weeks most of our 20 paid employees were on 24hr duty. Our guys were outstanding, recognized for outstanding service. In my 35 yr career, this was the hardest thing I have ever experienced. We had members who lived in Chalmette and lost everything. Again, I can't say how proud I am to lead this organization of men. Jason: Just for the record, Chalmette was one of the areas in St. Bernard Parish that was one of the worse damaged areas from the storm. Umm. Do you think it changed you? The FD or its members. Chief Don: At that time, I was the chief and I think it changed me and everyone. It definitely made me a better leader. I have seen my guys at their very best and their very worst. We didn't know what was going on, our family, community. It was hard, but we weathered the storm. We got our families out and stayed to protect. It made us all closer on a new relationship. 20 guys stayed in Marrero- Ragusa station on Burga Rd. Then we were at old station 81. I also think that it opened the Parishes eyes on to how vital we are to the community. Jason: Absolutely, I completely agree Umm. Not too much more. But about yourself. Why did you join? From when you did join to how you got to where you are now? And why Marrero- Harvey Chief Don: I live close to the FD. In 1971 The FD moved from 7th st. To Ave. C. right across Immaculate Conception. I got involved because I was always around it. So at 18 years of age, In 1973 I joined as a volunteer. In 1977 I went to Marrero - Estelle. Then in 1979 I went to Terry town. And in 1980 cam to work full time at Marrero - Harvey. Just really like the service and helping people. I enjoyed the People here and they were my father like figures. Then in 1999, I was successful in becoming Fire Chief. In 2005 they made the FIRE Chief Position paid which I gratefully took. And I plan on keeping this my career. We are a great organization. For me to run a Co. that is over 70 years old is amazing. Those people who began the Co. gave it pride and it is my goal to keep it that way. I know they are watching me. They gave us the foundation and it needs to stay that way. It's a great honor. Jason: Awesome, I don't have to much more. If there is anything that you would like to add about the FD, yourself, its integrity, members, anything that you may want people to know. I want this FD to be known and recognized by our community. Chief Don: Well you know Jason I appreciate you effort to do this because and like I said I am going to clarify some dates and times for you in old records. But like I said, the FD evolved from the 30's to now, with 9 pieces of top notch equipment. 3 modern fire stations and 20 paid workers and our volunteers. You can't say enough about a volunteer who puts it all on the line for the protection of others. Our president is Deputy Director of Emergency Management in Jefferson Parish, our Treasurer is an IRS agent, maybe that's why we do so well in our budget (Both are volunteers). We have members from every walk of life. I am just proud of how this FD is. Again I thank you for your effort. And as much information as I can get to help you archive I will so that we won't let this fall. I think it's a great project that you have started. Jason: Right, That's what I am hoping to do. For my grandfather, family and the FD. I just want to document it as much as possible. I never want to see the records lost. For everything that has been done on this department.