New Orleans — The firefighters of Engine No. 31 in Venetian Isles have been something of a nomadic bunch since Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home.
In days, though, their sojourn in quarters about a mile-and-a-half away from the small eastern New Orleans communities they serve will be nearing its end when officials break ground on a new permanent fire house.
The 7,600-square-foot facility will cost $3.7 million, said C. Hayne Rainey, a City Hall spokesman. The ground floor will be able to house two apparatus, while the second floor will include living quarters for the firefighters.
Construction crews will begin to mobilize on the firehouse’s site early next month. Nikisha Cammon, a project manager in the capital projects office, said that the project is expected to be completed by the end of October.
Architect Doug Bruza said that the contract is for a year, so that the work must be completed by this time next year.
Those who live in the Venetian Isles, Irish Bayou, Lake Catherine and Fort Pike areas had been without proper fire protection for years following the August 2005 hurricane.
While they built a new fire house two years ago, it wasn’t until April that the members of the Fort Pike Volunteer Fire Department received a new truck.
The New Orleans Fire Department’s efforts to respond quickly to any emergencies were affected by the extra stretch of road its firefighters had to travel, rather than being positioned on Old Spanish Trail in Venetian Isles.
The lack of fire suppression capability on the nine-mile spit of land between lakes St. Catherine and Pontchartrain and the greater distance New Orleans firefighters had to travel to respond to calls in the rural stretches of eastern New Orleans weighed on the minds of residents. While they realize they live in the far-reaches of the city, they said they still want to feel secure in their homes.
The return of a firehouse with a full-time, dedicated crew is long overdue, said Robby Knecht, president of the Venetian Isles Civic Organization.
He said that the roughly 1,100 people who live in his neighborhood, Lake Catherine, Fort Pike and Irish Bayou often have to wait hours for responses from some agencies because of their location on the far reaches of Orleans Parish. The Fire Department’s location near the communities, though, has often been a lifeline, he said.
“For us, it’s not only about fire (protection). It’s also for EMS,” Knecht said, noting that some firefighters also are trained to respond to some medical calls that paramedics cannot reach immediately like in the city.
“The EMS and health part of it is really important,” he said.