Fire Chief Lee Hebert retiring after 25 years
By PAUL KEDINGER
I’ve been thinking about this for five years,” remarks Lee Hebert, as he talks about his quickly approaching retirement after 25 years as a volunteer fireman.
Hebert will step down as fire chief, a role he has filled admirably since January 1998, and submit his resignation on Jan. 10, when Rayne’s volunteer firefighters will hold their departmental elections.
His retirement will become “official” on Feb. 13, 2011, harking back to the same day in 1989, when he was originally elected as a new member of the Rayne Volunteer Fire Department.
For three years prior to his acceptance, Hebert was a member of the Branch Volunteer Fire Department. He remembers he was invited to join the Rayne volunteers by David LeBlanc.
Though he will be retiring as fire chief, Hebert will continue to serve the department and his community as chairman of the board with Fire District No. 9.
Hebert was instrumental in organizing the effort to establish the fire district and calling the first property tax to support it, reason enough to continue his volunteerism.
He counts the creation of the district as his proudest achievement, because the tax base has enabled the volunteer department to upgrade both its equipment and, more importantly, its training.
The up-to-date equipment and improved training facilities have produced a fire rating of five in Rayne and a rating of six in the outlaying rural areas. “We had to buy a ladder truck to keep the five rating,” says Hebert.
Prior to the passage of the property tax, Hebert says it used to take 10 years to gather enough money to put a down payment on a new piece of firefighting equipment, such as a pumper, fire truck or rescue vehicle and gear. This past weekend, Hebert, Barry Granger and Allen “Noochie” Credeur traveled to Lyons South Dakota, to inspect the department’s new vehicles, a pumper and 2,000 gallon tanker at the Rosenbauer America Central Fire Apparatus Company. After confirming the pumper and tanker are outfitted completely, two men with Bonaventure Firefighting Equipment Company will drive the trucks back to Rayne.
The trucks will be unveiled on Monday, Dec. 27.
The fire district is entering the second 10-year phase of the tax, and Hebert has hopes that the Rayne Volunteer Fire Department will be able to secure a new, lower rate.
Toward that goal, the department recently converted to a voice paging system.
Hebert has high praise for the members of the fire district board. “The board members have done an outstanding job. We’ve been frugal with our money and we’re fortunate to have done everything we have.”
After joining the fire department, Hebert was awarded the American Legion’s Fireman of the Year citation on Jan. 7, 1992. Days later, he was elected second assistant chief and advanced to first assistant fire chief on Jan. 11, 1993. He was elected fire chief on Jan. 5, 1998.
With a smile, Hebert explains the only difference between a retired and active fireman is that the retiree can’t vote and aren’t required to attend the weekly Monday meetings.
In other words, Hebert said he will help out a fires when he can. He admits his job as parish emergency preparedness director frequently has made it impossible for him to respond to area fires from his office in Crowley,
Hebert is currently serving as treasurer on the board of directors of the Acadia Parish Firemen’s Association. He is also a member of the Louisiana State Firemen’s Association.
Hebert’s community volunteerism goes beyond the fire department. He’s a past member of the Rayne Auxiliary Police, former YMBC president and 1983
YMBC’ian of the Year. He also is a past member and officer of the Rayne Lions Club. He is a past master and member of the Rayne Masonic Lodge #313.
He is currently serving as vice chairman of the Housing Authority of Rayne’s board of directors and serves as scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 61. He has collected a lengthy list of citations and awards for his scouting work.
Asked to reflect on the worst fire call he has responded to over the years, Hebert quickly cites a house fire in which a retired fireman and his wife perished. “I still think about them,” he says.
The happiest moment of his career as fire chief came on the day his son, Brandon, joined the volunteer department.
Thinking about his family, Hebert acknowledges, “I would never have lasted 25 years without the support of my wife, Amy.”
He adds, “If you don’t have the support of your spouse...” leaving the sentence unfinished.
“It’s been a pleasure and honor to serve as fire chief and serve the area residents,” Hebert says.
He concludes he will support whomever is elected as the new fire chief, ensuring a smooth transition.