Human Condition: Fire response trainer had impact on many lives _lowres


A man who saves lives and teaches others to save lives is often revered by those who know him.

I’d like to introduce Mr. Bill Cromwell for your consideration.

After the Air Force, Mr. Cromwell worked for Continental Oil Company in Lake Charles where his passion for fire safety was born. While conducting industrial fire training classes at Texas A&M, he drew the attention of the LSU fire training coordinator.

He moved his small family in 1970 to Baton Rouge, where he had been hired as the first instructor for the LSU Fire Training School. Classes were conducted inside the Cow Barn, but Mr. Cromwell wanted to build bigger fires, fires too big for the stainless steel pans he constructed in the center of that arena, too big to be contained inside the palace. So 25 acres on Nicholson Drive were dedicated by the university as the place where those fires could be built — fires big enough to create real-life situations for fire training. His first assistant was a petite lady known as Tina Marie. She had dark curly hair with a tint of gray. She was only about 10 inches tall but stood proud next to his side, and, on all fours, followed him everywhere he went.

From humble beginnings grew a first-class facility, now the LSU Fire Emergency Institute, where scores of emergency responders in the U.S. and beyond were trained.

After 45 years, Mr. Cromwell still describes his work at LSU as one of his most enjoyable and most rewarding times.

Because of his reputation for not only training and his skills fighting industrial fires, Mr. Cromwell was offered a position at Ethyl Corp., where he worked for 16 years before branching out into the next leg of his untiring journey.

He bought the first franchise in Louisiana and Arkansas for the then mostly unheard of rescue tool called the Jaws of Life.

For 11 years, Mr. Cromwell owned the franchise and outsold California for three of those 11 years. Jambalaya dinners and fundraisers in parking lots of police stations, fire departments and community training centers gave those communities the resources they needed to purchase Jaws of Life, but for Mr. Cromwell the sale did not end there.

Classes were conducted on many hot summer days in Louisiana and Arkansas teaching emergency personnel how to use the rescue tool. Often called upon to respond to emergencies under the most dire conditions, he would use the area surrounding the accident as another “training field” for those on the scene.

It has been nearly 50 years since the work, the passion for teaching, the passion for building big fires of one man began to extend to untold numbers of men and women. That lineage of training led to a responder using the Jaws of Life to extricate Mr. Cromwell’s own granddaughter in a life-threatening accident.

So you might drive past the modest green sign which still stands on Nicholson Drive to denote the site of the LSU Fire Training School, or you might be on College Drive and wonder what the huge bellow of smoke is that rises south of our city or, God forbid, you might witness the use of Jaws of Life at the scene of an accident.

If you do I ask that you take a moment to reflect on the work of one kind, unassuming man who spent his life doing what he loved to do. I ask you to reflect on the profound effect he has had on the history of fire fighting and rescue training.

Now you know a little bit about Mr. Bill Cromwell.

Now you know a little bit about my Dad.

“Where’s Dad?” my brother and I would ask. “Well, where is there smoke?” would be Mom’s answer.

— Johnson lives in Baton Rouge

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