Some people in Zachary know Dennis Flurry as the owner of the NAPA Auto Parts store on Main Street.
But he's also known to many as Officer Flurry — reserve officer, that is, and one of nine who work for free alongside paid full-timers at the Zachary Police Department to keep watch over the city.
Flurry rides patrol almost every weekend. He takes Wednesdays off from his shop to work security at city court, and he's a regular presence at Northwestern Elementary School, whose 378 kindergartners often bombard him with expressions of appreciation for his service and requests for hugs.
In a growing city where public safety agencies are coping with mounting call volumes and tight budgets, people like Flurry who spend their spare time working for no pay at the Zachary police and fire departments play an especially valuable role.
"It helps let the regulars do their job," Flurry said.
Zachary’s police chief wants to raise his officers' starting salary by about $3,000 a year to try to help recruit and retain officers.
He was inspired to join the reserves in 2005 after someone broke into his business and made off with a cash register containing less money than what the damage cost him to repair. All sorts of other reasons have led people to volunteer, lending some much-needed helping hands to the busy, cash-strapped departments.
"Smaller municipalities can’t afford to have as many people as we would like to have," said Fire Chief Danny Kimble. Unpaid volunteers make up roughly half of his staff of 42. "A good, dependable volunteer group really aids with our operations and helping give back to the city of Zachary.”
Kimble's 18 volunteers and the reserve police officers are virtually indistinguishable from their full-time counterparts. They wear the same uniforms, complete the same training and carry out most of the same duties.
They confront the possibility of encountering danger on the job just like all first responders — a fact cast into sharp relief in March 2018, when Zachary reserve officer Chris Lawton was killed by a suspect he and another officer were trying to arrest.
Why would anyone take on a job like that for free — and after already putting in long hours at a "real" job?
"If people don't give to their communities, then communities don't thrive and prosper like they need to," said Scott Thompson, a reserve police officer who recently retired from the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Port Hudson. "You can't hire people to just do everything. People have got to volunteer and give of their time to help the community."
Reserve officers shuttle people arrested to East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and take those who need medical attention to the hospital so regular officers can get back to work quicker. They fill in gaps in patrol coverage and help meet the ever-increasing demand for security at schools and events.
"It would definitely put a strain on the department if we didn't have them," said Sgt. Justin Nevels, who supervises the reserve division.
Although Zachary's population has skyrocketed in the past decade, the Police Department has not expanded at a corresponding pace, Nevels said. When he joined the department 11 years ago, there were 32 full-time officers on staff; since then, that number has grown by only two, he said.
The Zachary school district is planning to purchase four pieces of property near Zachary High, with officials saying the land should offer muc…
That means officers are spread thin and typically have to patrol alone. When they're available, reserve officers ride along, offering the advantage of an extra set of eyes and ears, said Buddy Tidwell, a mechanical supervisor with ExxonMobil who has volunteered with the Police Department for 13 years.
"To have somebody in a backup role is huge," he said.
The department foots the bill for reserve officers' initial and ongoing training and provides uniforms and bullet-resistant vests. The officers, who get a stipend of $120 each quarter of the year, must pay for any additional gear themselves.
At the Fire Department, volunteers respond to calls for service, help keep up the station and are frequently seen representing the agency at events around town.
Many Zachary residents are familiar with the volunteers' annual fundraiser. The group one year used the proceeds to purchase a truck for high-water rescues.
“The entire department really benefits," Kimble said. "They buy equipment and tools (that are) really needed.”
Volunteer first responders bring a variety of experiences to the table, creating an interesting work environment.
It's "definitely fun. You get to learn all different kinds of stuff," said Ben Zachary, a volunteer firefighter since 2007. He works full-time at the Baton Rouge Fire Department; other volunteers hold a range of jobs, including a mortician.
Working in the public safety field imparts a unique perspective on the community, Zachary said.
Christy Turner’s face may be one of the most recognized in Zachary.
"You get to see a different side of people," he said. "When you call us, you’re having one of the worst days of your life."
That can teach lessons that prove valuable in volunteers' day jobs — and life in general.
"You learn how to listen and hear everything," said Thompson, who previously was a reserve deputy with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office and a volunteer firefighter in Slaughter. Then, "you form an opinion about things in a rational way without getting angry."
The Police Department asks its reserve members to log at least 54 hours per quarter. Thompson, Tidwell and Flurry usually exceed that requirement by hundreds.
"We've all got careers and jobs outside of here, but we make it a point to come in and help out the community the best way we can," Tidwell said.
Lawton, their slain colleague, shared that desire to give back to Zachary, they said.
"Any time that they were working something in the detectives division and they needed something, they called Chris Lawton, and he was working for free that night," Nevels said. "He gave his life for this community for free."
Asked if quitting the police force ever crossed their minds after Lawton's death, the reserve officers all shook their heads "no."
"Once it's in your blood," Flurry said, "it's in your blood."