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Bill Capo / Eyewitness News
Email: bcapo@wwltv.com | Twitter: @billcapo

State Fire Marshall Butch Browning visited the Fort Pike Volunteer Fire Department to praise what he described as a miraculous recovery following Hurricane Katrina.

'It is one of the success stories of Katrina, as you see what's happened here,' said Browning. 'The community people took off their shirts, you know, got in the mud, and rebuilt this thing.'

The Fort Pike Volunteer Fire Department serves the Lake Catherine fishing camp community, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The fire house was destroyed; the fire truck washed away.

'I never thought it would come back as big as it has, but the residents out here, they loved it,'
said Fire Chief Chuck Schmalz.

So the fire department came back too, with a new fire house, a donated fire truck and rescue vehicle, and members better trained than ever before.

'I got twenty guys who took their time to go take the test through New Orleans Fire Department and get certified as fire fighters,' said Schmalz.

Now they feel they're prepared when the alarm sounds.

'It was rough, man,' said Firefighter Prahngar Draper. 'We went through the same training that any New Orleans FIre Department recruit would go through.'

How much better prepared are they now?

'Oh, it gives us a lot of confidence,' Draper said.

'They've lowered the fire insurance premiums to where people can afford to live here again,' noted Butch Browning.

And the best part is, they're protecting their neighbors.

'We don't want anything bad to happen, but it's nice to know that we can be there for somebody,' said Firefighter John Rodi.

As you can hear, Lake Catherine is a community that is still rebuilding and expanding. And that presents new problems for firefighters, because of how high these houses sit off the ground.

'The houses now are 19 feet above sea level, which makes it 14 feet off the ground,' said Chief Schmalz. 'It's a lot harder to fight a high fire like that.'

So what do they need now?

'Oh, we could use a ladder truck,' Chief Schmalz said.

'They're working every day to get equipment donated. We're going to help them,' concluded Browning.

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