By Sherri L. Jackson
Alexandria Fire Chief Bernard Wesley can’t get the smile from his face.
In fact, the smile widens as he speaks of the city’s newly renovated fire station located on Lee and Masonic streets.
“There was a lot that went into getting this station, and we did it. That’s why I feel the way I do,” Wesley said explaining his enthusiasm and joy in the new Fire Station 4.
He’s also filled with pride and joy as his name is listed as fire chief on a plaque inside the station. The plaque erected when the station was dedicated in 1944 lists Ralph Neff as chief.
Not much had been done to the building since then, which led to “horrible conditions,” which firefighters lived under until the renovations of the station. A ceremony marking the re-opening was held Thursday, March 18.
Wesley isn’t the only one happy about the renovations at Station 4. Capt. Bobby Brimer, who has been with the department since 1991, said the renovations brings the station from “a rat hole to a condo.”
“This was a bad station. The paint flaked, the ceilings leaked. There was asbestos and lead paint we were living under, and no one complained. Now, it’s nice to come to work. I’m proud the citizens of Alexandria came through for us,” he said.
The $1.5 million renovations include new furniture, new paint, an exercise room, individual bedrooms, upgraded kitchen appliances and an enclosed balcony.
As much as has changed in the building, Wesley said it was important to keep some of the building’s historic features such as the stair railings and other woodwork.
The re-opening of Fire Station 4 is somewhat a crown jewel in Wesley’s three-year tenure as fire chief of the Alexandria Fire Department.
Mayor Jacques Roy officially appointed Wesley in December 2007. Before the appointment, Wesley was named interim chief replacing Paul Smith, who took a job with the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s Office.
Two weeks after becoming fire chief, Wesley told The Light he had thoughts of retiring “and doing something else” after 25 years with the Alexandria Fire Department.
Almost three years later, Wesley said the job as fire chief has good days and bad days. He survives by “sticking to what I believe, what is right, what is legal and what is policy.”
“I work to make sure the things we do are geared toward the citizens first, the department next and individuals are far down the list,” he said.
Since becoming chief, Wesley said he has worked to upgrade or eliminate any outdated procedures or structures.
“When faced with a challenge, I always ask, ‘why are we doing it this way?’ If there is no answer, I research it. If it’s outdated, then it is changed,” the fire chief said.
It’s important, Wesley said, that the department’s 128 employees understand what’s being done and why.
In addition to the newly renovated Fire Station 4, Wesley said having the department maintain its Class 2 fire rating was a plus for the department and the citizens of Alexandria. The fire rating is used to help determine insurance premiums.
A national agency evaluates the department in several areas including municipal water supply, emergency communications, manpower, and station locations.
The rating system is 1-10. Number 2 is the second highest rating for a department.
“I’m on Cloud 9 because we worked hard to maintain the 2 rating,” Wesley said.
To receive a 1, Wesley said, would require the department to employ more firefighters and to expand the coverage area as the city has expanded.
Plans are in the making to move fire stations, which includes brining stations to Culpepper Road, Jones Street, La Highway 28 West and North Bolton Avenue.
According to published reports, Station1, located downtown, will move to Culpepper Road, at the intersection of North Drive; Station 2 on Broadway Avenue, will move to Jones Street next to the Bethel AME Church; Station 5, which is on Texas Avenue, will move to La. Highway 28 West.
Station 6 on Twin Bridges Road will be renovated, Wesley said.
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