Places & Faces
Salute to First Responders
10/30/2018 12:58:37 PM
First Responders

This month, we honor our Southwest Louisiana First Responders. These are the people who strive to protect our communities, keep us safe, and come to our rescue in times of need. In our day-to-day lives, we don’t often think about the people who put their lives on the line in the name of service to their communities. Read these stories and join Thrive magazine in saying THANK YOU for always being there when we need you!

What it Takes to Become a Police Officer
by John O'Donnell

Children often dream of becoming a police officer. The allure of fighting crime and serving their community is an enticing proposition. People are intrigued by the idea of policing because it’s one of the most challenging and unpredictable yet rewarding jobs one could hold. 

The Lake Charles Police Department (LCPD) currently employs 186 people; 156 are police officers. Don Dixon has been chief of the LCPD for the past 17 years. Prior to that, he served in the FBI for 30 years. He says the duties of a police officer require a multitude of responsibilities. Public and traffic safety, investigations, warrants, affidavits, court hearings . . . the list is long. "Every day I come to work I am amazed by the dedication, professionalism and sacrifice made by these wonderful men and women,” he says. Dixon will retire as of January 15, 2019.

Being a police officer offers the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of the people in their community every day. But what does it take to actually become a police officer? 

Most police academies are modeled on military training programs that instill a high regard for physical condition and performance, but also support formal training to introduce recruits to basic legal concepts and police procedures. The training to become an officer with the Lake Charles Police Department is no different. 

The first Lake Charles police officer was sworn in eight days after the city was incorporated in 1868. Pat Fitzgerald was the town blacksmith and a Civil War veteran. His military experience and strength made him well suited to deal with crime and unsavory situations. 

In modern times, the qualifications to become an officer have changed some. To even be considered a candidate for the police academy, applicants must be a Citizen of the United States, at least 21 years of age, possess a high school diploma and a valid driver’s license, pass a written Civil Service Examination, and pass a rigorous physical agility test. 

The physical agility test includes timed fitness challenges like sit-ups, push-ups, a one-and-a-half-mile run, obstacle course, and sprints. After achieving those minimum benchmarks, prospective police officers then move to more advanced tests that include polygraph examinations, oral and psychological examinations, a physical exam, and a drug screen. 

A lengthy background investigation is also part of the process and may take several weeks to complete. The background check confirms the applicant meets the basic criteria and officer qualifications but also looks into their criminal, educational, driving, personal, and employment history. Detectives in charge of the background check confirm recruits are of good moral quality by interviewing former classmates, teachers, family members, and work colleagues. 

Once all of that is completed, applicants then join the Police Training Academy where for 11 weeks, they learn all the basic skills needed for a successful start to a career as a Lake Charles Police Officer – patrolling, firearms, crime scene investigation, interrogation techniques, CPR and first aid, legal procedures, and courtroom etiquette. 

With such a rigorous process, how many recruits achieve the goal of officer? Dixon says there were 75 applicants in the last recruitment class. Of those 75, ultimately 16 were hired.

After graduation, the newly-badged officers begin their service protecting the people and property of their community. While the job can be perilous, the thorough training and recruitment process leaves new cops well prepared for the responsibilities and dangers they will face in the line of duty.

Firehouse Families
by Andrea Mongler

With wide-ranging roles and responsibilities, fire crews work together, play together and respond to emergencies as a team.

The term "firefighter” may be accurate, but it isn’t exactly comprehensive.

It’s true, of course, that firefighters fight fires, but that’s just a small part of what they do. As Keith Murray, fire chief of the Lake Charles Fire Department (LCFD), puts it, "We’re a jack of all trades and a master of none.”

Firefighters undergo training in a variety of subjects, including CPR, emergency medical response, vehicle extrication, and hazmat (short for "hazardous materials”). The result is that they can — and do — respond to a wide range of calls.

"If you fall in a hole; are stuck on top of something; crash in a car or rig or tractor; or if it’s a hazmat situation, we respond,” Murray says. "We have responded to the port and to calls on ships and on grain silos. If it’s not a job for law enforcement, it’s our job.”

He says his department has been doing an increasing number of vehicle extrications. He attributes this to growth and development in the region, which has led to more vehicles on the roads and — in turn — more accidents.

The LCFD is the largest fire department in Calcasieu Parish and has 10 stations — eight in the city of Lake Charles and two in the parish. But it is just one of 11 fire departments in the parish. Municipalities such as Sulphur and Westlake have their own smaller departments, and the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury oversees several fire protection districts for designated areas.

The fire stations are often referred to as firehouses — and for good reason. Firefighters are there for long stretches of time — 24-hour shifts at LCFD firehouses — and they have the same chores and responsibilities as most people do at home.

"We are family here for 24 hours,” says Jamison Welch, captain of the Ladder 6 truck at the LCFD’s Station 6. "I spend just about as much time with them as with my actual family!”

As captain, Welch is the senior member of his truck’s three-person crew. As on other trucks, his crew also includes a driver and a hoseman. When they’re on duty, the members of any three-person crew are together, ready to respond to a call at a moment’s notice. 
A crew’s day usually begins with chores. The hoseman does a lot of cleaning – basically, the jobs you’d expect the new guy to have.
Daniel Brown, the hoseman on Ladder 6, says the new-guy role isn’t so bad, though there may be some pranks involved. "Mostly it’s to teach you lessons,” he says.

The driver checks the truck and the tools on board to make sure everything is in good working order. The captain has paperwork to do and phone calls to make and receive. And then the crew’s day proceeds like any family’s might.

"We cook, we clean, we hang out,” Welch says. "We work out here, we wash clothes here, we watch football games. We do everything here.”

The cooking is worth noting, as firefighters have a reputation for being great cooks. Welch calls his crew’s driver, Ronnie Semien, one of the best cooks he’s ever worked with. Semien credits his skills in the kitchen to his travels. But whether they’re cooking or cleaning or sleeping, a fire crew is ready to respond to the next emergency, whenever it may be. And they are constantly learning — striving to know more and be better at their jobs. 

"We never think twice that we understand everything there is to know because we don’t,” Murray says. "But we are training all year long and learning something new all the time.”

Community Foundation Firefighter Appreciation

The Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation Firefighter’s Fund at the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana wants to thank nearly 500 local firefighters at all 14 stations in Calcasieu Parish for their service with onsite BBQ. Each station’s full-time and volunteer firefighters and administrative personnel will receive a meal provided by Paul’s Rib Shack. 

"We know our firefighters have skills, training, dedication and effectiveness among the best in the country,” said Edwin Kidd Hunter, Program Officer with the Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation. "They deserve our admiration and support. The Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana’s fund to recognize our firefighters gives everyone a chance to let these first responders know they are appreciated.”

"This fund is one example of the many ways that people are enriching Southwest Louisiana through the Community Foundation.  With nearly 100 different charitable funds, we have donors who are supporting causes they care about, including scholarships for workforce development, public parks transformation and enhancing the area’s bike culture,” said Sara Judson, CEO of the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana. "We work with people, businesses and organizations to make their giving effective, efficient and enduring.”

The menu includes a variety of specialty meats and side items: brisket, ribs, turkey, sausage, smoked beans, mac-n-cheese and slaw. Meals will be cooked onsite at each location over the next few months.

About the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana
The Community Foundation promotes and facilitates giving in Southwest Louisiana. It accepts gifts of any size and empowers individuals, families, companies, nonprofits and communities to respond to needs and opportunities that matter.  Since starting up in 2008, the donors of the Community Foundation have granted over $12 million dollars to nonprofits and facilitated a variety of civic initiatives.

Assess, Treat, Transport, Repeat. The Day-to-Day Job of a Medic
by Andrea Mongler

What would you do if you witnessed a serious car crash? Or watched someone struggling to breathe? Or saw a person who seemed to be having a heart attack?

Regardless of what you know — or don’t know — about first aid skills or CPR or remaining calm during an emergency, there’s probably one thing you do know: Call 911 and request an ambulance.

When that ambulance arrives, the medics on board will do what they’ve been trained to do: Quickly assess the situation, do what they can to help the patient, and — if needed — get that patient to a hospital.

"We respond to people who are having the worst day of their life,” says Heather Savoy, a paramedic field supervisor at Acadian Ambulance Service. "It might not always seem that way to us, but it is still significant to them. Our job is to be there for them and to help them.”

Lafayette-based Acadian is the sole provider of ambulance response for Calcasieu Parish. Its coverage area extends across southern Louisiana into Texas to the west and Mississippi to the east.

John DuBose, an operations manager at Acadian, says the company transports about 100 patients per day in Calcasieu Parish. Three-fourths of those calls are emergencies, and the rest are for non-emergency bedbound patients who need to be transported — perhaps to a doctor’s appointment or to a nursing home after being discharged from the hospital.

As DuBose says, medics "see it all,” including car crashes, shootings, heart attacks, strokes and, recently, an increase in opioid overdoses.

In the Lake Charles area, medics typically work 12-hour shifts and are assigned to a roadside post, meaning they sit in an ambulance on the side of the road and wait to be called to an emergency. 

Dispatchers working out of Lafayette not only send ambulances to nearby emergencies but also strategically place them throughout the region. It works this way: If one ambulance is sent to respond to a call, others will be moved to different locations so that they are more evenly distributed throughout the area, increasing the chance that when the next call comes in, there will be an ambulance close by.

Savoy, who works the 6 a.m.-to-6 p.m. shift, starts her day in South Lake Charles but says, "I can end up anywhere from Vinton to DeQuincy, Deridder and Jennings. We can go anywhere that Acadian Ambulance covers.”

Whenever an ambulance responds to an emergency, there are two medics on board: a paramedic, like Savoy, and an EMT, short for emergency medical technician. Though they both fall under the more general term "medic,” there’s a difference and it comes down to training. 

An EMT is trained in skills including CPR, giving patients oxygen, and administering glucose to people with diabetes. Paramedics have undergone more training and have more advanced skills; they can start IVs, administer medications, and intubate patients, for example.

Once a patient is loaded into the ambulance, one crew member drives to the hospital while the other continues to treat the patient. As Savoy says, the ambulance is "a mini rolling ER.” Which crew member treats the patient and which drives depends on the severity of the situation and what level of care the patient needs.

The medic provides that care until the patient is taken into the hospital and the emergency department team takes over. Then, as suddenly as the ambulance crew’s role began, it’s over.

"You have to be able to handle chaotic situations,” Savoy says. "Your adrenaline goes through the roof, and a little while later you’re sitting on the side of the road again.”

Then they wait for the next call — and do it all over again. 

Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness - Working Behind the Scenes to Keep Our Community Safe
by Angie Kay Dilmore

Of all the first responder departments, the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (OHSEP) is likely the least understood by the public. They are most visible during a disaster such as a hurricane, but what exactly do they do on an average day?

A primary role of OHSEP, under the umbrella of the Police Jury, is to be a liaison between various public safety organizations, to respond to an event, and coordinate activity. 

 "Our main goal is to plan and coordinate multi-response agencies into one cohesive group in response to a disaster, whether it be a technological event – transportation-related or a fixed facility; a terrorist event; or a natural disaster,” says director Dick Gremillion. 

The heart of their offices at 901 Lakeshore Drive is the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). During a crisis, this is where the action happens. Representatives from hospitals, transportation, Louisiana national guard, Cajun Navy, fire marshal’s office, and law enforcement convene for briefings and to work together in one room for a common goal – public safety. "The EOC is where we and other public safety agencies come together so we have a unified place to work to coordinate the response to different events,” says Norman Bourdeaux, OHSEP assistant director. When not in use to coordinate disaster planning, the room is frequently in use for disaster training exercises.

Even if the disaster is not local, OHSEP is still involved and hard at work. They assist other agencies to send rescue and utility teams to affected areas. They help set up evacuation centers. During Hurricane Harvey, 5000 displaced people sought shelter in Lake Charles.

Though hurricane season is certainly a busy time of year for OHSEP, they remain active year around, 24/7. Their scope of responsibility covers a surprisingly wide range of duties. "Most of the time, unless we are in the middle of a disaster, we are working in the background, making sure everything is operating smoothly so that whenever something major does happen, we have those open communications, we know who to talk to, what their capabilities are. That’s what we do on a day-to-day basis,” says Gremillion. "With a major interstate running through here, we have approximately 10,000 hazardous material shipments pass through the area a day, not including the two major railways, a port, and all the industries in the area,” says Gremillion. "Anything can happen just about any time.”

Cyber-security is a concern for OHSEP. Power and electrical companies can be particularly targeted. OHSEP offers cyber-security training to public and private partners. They bring awareness to the community and serve as a bridge between local and federal agencies. "It’s been there the past several years, but recently has risen to the top of people’s awareness,” says Bourdeaux.

OHSEP maintains the early-warning shelter-in-place sirens system throughout the parish, and a telephone system that delivers emergency text messages. Gremillion is also responsible for the Calcasieu Emergency Response Training Center in Moss Bluff, which primarily provides fire and hazardous materials training for firefighters and industries. Gremillion says OHSEP prioritizes training and drills, "because we have to get it right.” OSHEP is closely tied to the police and fire departments, as well as industrial safety departments.

Gremillion stresses that no one person is responsible for decision-making in the event of an emergency. It is always a team effort. The Executive Policy Group consists of the Police Jury president, the sheriff, the six parish mayors, the parish administrator, Gremillion, and anyone else who could assist in the decision-making process during emergency or disaster situations, such as school closings and evacuations. 

Public outreach and education are also important roles for OHSEP, says Gremillion. "If people want to hear about topics such as shelter in place, hurricane preparedness, active shooter situations, we are happy to speak to industrial groups, schools, civic organizations, even the gaming industry.”

For more information, please visit

Who You Gonna Call? 911!
by Angie Kay Dilmore

Not everyone knows how to do CPR, monitor heart rate, or apply a tourniquet. But most people know the first thing to do when faced with an emergency. Call 911! But who are those operators on the other end of the 911 line?

Richard McGuire, executive director of the Calcasieu Parish Communications District, heads a group of 25 "telecommunicators.” They take in 911 calls and dispatch the appropriate emergency personnel, whether police, fire department, EMS, or a combination. He calls his crew the ‘first first responders.’

"We are the first people the public speak to in an emergency situation. We ensure the caller receives the type of help they need for their given emergency. While we may not be physically on site with them, we feel as though we are there with them every step of the way.”

It takes a particular type of person to be an effective 911 operator. They need to be calm under pressure. They need to be patient with a caller and be able to calm a caller down if they are too upset to give appropriate information to the 911 operator. McGuire says one of the most critical characteristics of a 911 operator is the ability to multitask. "They need to be able to take in a whole lot of information from the caller and get it down to a succinct narrative that we can pass on to first responders and other agencies.”

911 operators are trained in techniques on how to gain control of a call and to guide the caller into providing the needed information in the most timely way possible. McGuire says, "We do our own in-house training based on the Association of Public Safety Communications Officers (APCO) telecommunicators standards and we send them to several other training classes.”

McGuire says his Calcasieu Parish center receives 800-1600 calls a day, with five to six operators per shift. Most of the calls are appropriate, but 10-15 percent of the daily calls are inadvertent calls, for example butt dials or maybe a child testing the system to see if it truly works. He adds that these accidental calls require a lot of time and resources. If someone dials 911 and hangs up before the operator can verify the call is not indeed an emergency, the operator must respond to that call and send an officer to investigate the call. So, McGuire urges the public, if they accidentally call 911, to please stay on the line and complete the call.

But if you DO have an emergency, don’t hesitate to call. 911 is there for you. McGuire adds, "If it is an emergency to you, then it is worth dialing 911.” 

For more information, visit
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