Leaky roof continues to plague fire station 13 months after Laura

Published 8:25 pm Wednesday, September 29, 2021

A heavy rainstorm Tuesday caused water to leak into the Lake Charles Fire Department’s Central Station. A video posted on Facebook that same day and viewed more than 4,500 times showed missing ceiling tiles, with buckets and garbage cans catching water coming into the station.

City Administrator John Cardone said Wednesday that, weather permitting, a new, stronger permanent roof should be installed at the station within 30 days.

“We want to get it fixed as soon as our employees do,” he said. “It’s important to us.

One Lake Charles firefighter, who asked not to be identified, said the water intrusion at Central Station is one of many problems fire stations citywide have dealt with in the 13 months since Hurricane Laura made landfall in Southwest Louisiana.

“Every time it rains, you can guarantee there will be buckets all over the station,” the person said. “It got to the point where it just got old.”

Fire Station 2 on Broad Street and Station 7 on Tybee Lane still have missing bay doors, the firefighter said. Each of the eight stations is relying on reserve trucks that are out of date and lack air conditioning, and firefighters are growing tired.

“We are told that things are in the works to get done, and we are told to be patient,” the person said. “We’re still dealing with this.”

The temporary roof at Central Station leaked because it couldn’t withstand the heavy rain that fell Tuesday, Cardone said. Marsh Waterproofing Inc. of Vidor, Texas, is the contractor for the work, which will cost $185,000, he said.

Repairs to the roofs and interiors of the city’s eight fire stations sit right at $2 million, Cardone said. Three stations have received new roofs since Hurricane Laura, with only Central Station remaining.

The damage at Fire Station 2 led it to temporarily close and move personnel to station 5, causing overcrowding, the firefighter said. Katie Harrington, city public information officer, said interior repairs are ongoing at the station, with personnel and trucks operating out of nearby stations. She said Fire Station 2 should reopen within the next week or two.

Only three original fire trucks are in use throughout the entire department that have air conditioning, the firefighter said. Cardone said the city has enough fire trucks to adequately serve residents. He said some trucks need repair work, such as installing new air conditioning systems. Purchase orders have been approved for that work, and the city is waiting on some parts to arrive, he said.

Not having bay doors at Fire Stations 2 and 7 leaves them exposed when firefighters are out on calls, the firefighter said.

“We can’t lock up the building,” he said “There’s nothing we can do.”

Despite the damage from Hurricane Laura, Cardone said the city is providing the same level of fire service.

“Is it the way it needs to be because of the conditions of the property; the answer is no,” he said. “We have great men and women in the fire department, and if there’s a fire, they’re going to take care of our citizens.”

The fire department has a high turnover rate, with some firefighters taking jobs in other cities or departments, or quitting outright,” the firefighter said. Cardone said most of the city’s firefighters have returned since Hurricane Laura. He added that all departments, including City Hall and City Police, are dealing with employee shortages.

“Our employees are working to sustain that and make sure services are provided, and they’re doing a good job of it,” Cardone said.

Cardone said the challenges faced at the fire department are no different than the ones encountered by the Calcasieu Parish School Board, Calcasieu Sheriff’s Office, Calcasieu Police Jury and residents. Repairs to more than 200 structures managed by the city are expected to cost around $150 million, he said. Cardone said City Hall had a new permanent roof installed recently. The Public Works department has been working out of a trailer since Hurricane Laura demolished its administration building.

“It’s been a challenge for everyone; for all the departments,” he said.

Part of the problem with getting repairs done lies with the high cost of materials, labor and supply shortages and securing bids. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with Hurricanes Delta, the February winter storm and the May flood, have all made it harder to get repairs done quickly.

The city must also follow state bid law, work with insurance companies and follow FEMA requirements in order to seek reimbursement. The city has hired architects for every building damaged by the storms in order to expedite repairs.

Cardone said the city meets with department heads weekly to hear about the status of buildings. The city has hired a facility manager to help the engineering department with all of the hurricane-damaged facilities.

Lake Charles Fire Department Chief Keith Murray declined to comment.