Date: March 11th 2017

From/To: Baton Rouge, LA/Krotz Springs, LA

Daily Mileage: 35 miles

Total Mileage: 695 miles

Conditions: Thunderstorms and rain

I consider myself lucky regarding the weather I’ve had so far. That luck finally ran out today.

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Today’s short ride, from Baton Rouge, LA to Livonia, LA.

I woke up around 6:45AM to gauge the weather for the day. I saw a 40% chance of thunderstorms at 10AM, in increasingly likelihood throughout the morning until about noon. Thunderstorms from 10-12. Great. I packed up all my gear and left SAE around 7:30, heading towards downtown Baton Rouge. I found a breakfast place downtown, then I made my way to another coffee shop around north campus of LSU where I spent most of the morning. I worked on some videos and blogging for a few hours, until I noticed the storm wasn’t coming… Apparently that’s Louisiana, a place of unpredictable weather. I set off around 12:30, now shooting for Krotz Springs, 50 miles short of my anticipated location according to my planner. I averaged 15 mph for a majority of the ride, trying to beat the bad afternoon weather. My first challenge came when crossing the Mississippi River, there aren’t many options for bikers. I decided to take the northern bridge out of Baton Rouge, on a road called Airline Highway. The bridge had no shoulder, and from what I head at the LSU bike shop, nobody has ever attempted it. I would be the first that they knew of, and they asked me to contact them if I successfully crossed the bridge. Great. That wasn’t a comforting feeling, but I had to get across and that was my best option. As I approached the bridge, I came across a construction site, with a sheriff pulled off to the side overseeing the traffic. I pulled up and asked for an escort. As I anticipated he first said no, but then realizing the danger I was about to endure over the crossing he decided to help me out.

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The bridge (like most of the bridges I’ve had to cross) had a long uphill climb before reaching the midpoint. I was going as fast as I could, and I can’t tell you how painful it was knowing I couldn’t stop until I crossed the river. I made it across thanks to the sheriff, giving him a nod as he zipped off down the road. I had about 20 miles until I reached my destination for the night. I made it about 15 miles until I hit what’s called the 4-Mile Bridge, another shoulder-less overpass stretching across some wetlands. I was already planning to stop by the police station (before the bridge) to ask for a ride but I didn’t even make it to that town before due to an incoming thunderstorm. I was biking along when lightning struck a tree in a field about 100o yards away from me, and I immediately took refuge from the storm under a bridge. I called up the sheriffs office and they sent someone out to provide me with a lift over the bridge. As we crossed the bridge in a torrential down pour the sheriff said “I seriously don’t think you would have made it through alive.” Not only from the crazy driving but the down pour that was occurring at that time, lowering visibility even further. He drove me across the bridge and dropped me off at a gas station right off the pass. I put my bike back together and continued down the road to Krotz Springs in search of the fire department. I had no problem finding it, mostly because the town itself was small enough what I cold practically throw a baseball at it from the other side of town. They knew I was coming because I called earlier that day to make sure it wouldn’t be a problem.

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St. Landry Fire Protection District #1

I arrived right as the shift was changing. Joseph was my contact and he was heading out soon after I arrived. There are 6 career fire fighters at this department, not including the 7 volunteer fire fighters. The 6 full timers work 2 day shifts, with the following 4 days off. When theres an emergency they call in a volunteer to man the station while they’re out, in fact as I arrived there was a call, and they had to bring in a volunteer to watch the station while they were out. One of the guys gave me a tour of the place, including a run down of the trucks and their specific functions.

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This is called the first out engine. It’s packed with 1250 gallons of water, along with 250 gallons of AAAF, the foam that soaks up fire. This truck is always the first responder to the scene, no matter what sort of emergency.

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These gauges represent the different hoses on the first-out truck, reading the psi for each particular hose line, allowing the fire fighters to control each one specifically.

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The control (or pump) panel on the first-out engine.

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The St. Landry Fire Protection District #1 is one in five fire departments in the state of Louisiana to have an ambulance. Most don’t have one because they’re so expensive, and the responsibilities involved in responding to every call that comes in when they have one. This ambulance is free for people to use and is paid for by tax dollars, meaning that some people, known as “frequent fliers,” use this service often without having to pay. The fire fighters are EMT certified, meaning they can properly administer CPR and operate a defibrillator, however they are not allowed to administer an IV fluid, something that paramedics can do. The nearest hospital is 20 miles away in Opelousas LA, so often times this ambulance will respond to local emergencies, then heading towards the hospital they’ll transfer the patient (or pick up a paramedic if it’s a time sensitive emergency) somewhere between the emergency location and the hospital.

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This is called the water tanker, a converted fuel truck. Because Krotz Springs is so rural, there’s not a fire hydrant network that runs throughout the town. As a result, a truck like this is needed to supply 4500 gallons of water for emergencies. Hoses can hook up to the truck as they would a fire hydrant.

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This is the equipment truck, containing tools needed primarily for car accidents. These tools include the jaws of life, a chainsaw, first aid equipment, airbags to stabilize a wreck, hatchets, and spare air packs.

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The gear of the 6 career fighters fighters ready to go.

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This pickup is used to tow the boat. This fire department has responded to natural disasters along the gulf coast, such as Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, Isaac, Gustav.

After the call we sat around the living room for a while and had some dinner. Over dinner Mike pulled out a photo album of Baton Rouge from this past August, during the “flood of 2016.” They had pictures of their boat floating over roadways in downtown Baton Rouge. They found a woman with children and a 95 year old man, stranded in a building for three days. The bottom floor of the building was filled up to 8 feet with water. It was stunning to hear some of the stories about their experiences on calls. If there’s a need for help, they respond, simply put.

After dinner, Rob (the other man on shift) went to bed and I watched some TV with Mike. I was writing up the blog asking him about specific details and information. Eventually our conversation got into why he chose to become a career firefighter, at which point he told me this story. 6 years ago Mike was heading to fire academy school when he came across an accident on 190 (a local road), where a car had been t-boned pulling onto the road. The victims, a woman and her unconscious 2 year nephew. Mike showed up moments after the incident, and used CPR to bring the child back to life. He said prior to that he wasn’t sure he would finish up training, and after, he knew there wasn’t anything else he’d want to do more. “You only have a 10% chance to save someone when you use CPR, and to know you saved someone, it’s rewarding and it’s what keeps me in it. Kids and people you know are the toughest calls you’ll get.” He went on to tell me about the guys here. “This department has an interesting dynamic, for some people its been a family thing, your father, his father sort of thing. They all served and that’s their way in. For others it was something spontaneous.” Some came from a medical background and joined the firefighting side. The volunteers are people who have regular day jobs, but they want to serve on the side as volunteers. The career fighters get all the benefits of a regular job, while the volunteers get little to no benefits depending on the department agreements. Some get paid, others just do it to serve their community.

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This was definitely a rewarding and interesting overnight stay. I was asleep around midnight, my bed being the couch in the living room. It certainly beats last night.

Enjoy The Ride

-Matt