HOLDEN – The Denham Springs Fire Department got a boost last week, when the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation awarded $177,144 worth of equipment to seven fire departments.

The local department received $40,000 to go toward replacing 18 air packs lost in August’s flooding. The presentation was held Thursday, April 13, hosted by Ferrara Fire Apparatus Inc. in Holden.

“We’ve donated to 2,800 departments all over the country. Really, it’s the coolest thing I get to do. It’s like Christmas,” said Robin Sorensen, cofounder of both Firehouse Subs and the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation with his brother, Chris.

Every 90 days the foundation meets and considers who will receive part of the $1 million to $1.5 million earmarked to buy equipment, Sorensen said.

“As I go, I’m a small piece of it. The largest part is the individual donations, 70 percent of the donations come from customers. On average,1 percent of sales from stores go to the foundation,” he said, but “It is 60 percent better than that in Louisiana.”

In response to the Great Flood of 2016, local Firehouse Subs restaurants raised funds to help Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation replace rescue equipment damaged or lost in the floods.

Denham Springs Fire Chief Melvin Wheat said the new air packs will be measured to fit the face of the individual firefighter.

“This equipment will enable us to perform search and rescue operations not only in … Denham Springs, but also for neighboring departments we have mutual aid agreements with, enabling my department to serve the city, as well as other parts of the parish.”

Air packs are worn when air quality is poor, such as during a fire or chemical spill, ensuring firefighters are equipped with breathable air.

Although his department still has one station under repair, Wheat said, “We’re still responding the same, still doing our job.”

“Giving back to our first responders is the primary goal of the foundation,” said Robin Peters, Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation executive director Robin Peters.

“We’re in a very fortunate position that allows us to quickly respond after disaster strikes,” she said. “The equipment being celebrated today replaces critical equipment lost in the storms.”

“I’m the weather geek.” Peters added. During her childhood, she tracked the weather looking for that day off from school called “Snow day in New Jersey.”

“Now that I’m older, it has become a purpose. You see the weather and how it will impact a community and how first responders will be impacted,” she said.

“Disasters expose a critical need … critical pieces of lifesaving equipment,” Peters said. “You are on the scene in potentially the worst moment of someone’s day or life.”

That sentiment was echoed by one state official.

“These are the things that save people’s lives,” said Butch Browning, Louisiana fire marshal. “Some piece of equipment will make the difference between someone living or dying.”

“The story started about 60 to 70 miles from here,” Sorensen said about the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Fundation.

After Hurricane Katrina’s blow to the Gulf Coast in 2005, the Jacksonville, Fla., fire chief asked city residents Robin and Chris Sorensen to help provide food to first responders and survivors in Mississippi.

The Sorensens filled an 18-wheeler with food and water and brought it to Pearlington, Miss., “where we made lifelong friends,” Robin Sorensen said.

“I’ve seen some stuff in my life,” as a firefighter, he said, “wrecks and things. But in Waveland, the damage was incredible.”

After distributing food and water in Kiln and Bay St. Louis, the brothers left for Jacksonville, talking about helping others.

“It felt great,” Sorensen said. “It was weighing on my heart” when they got the idea of a foundation for disaster relief.

“We went back to our roots as firefighters,” he recalled. “We thought about lifesaving equipment.”

The nonprofit foundation has given more than $25 million to fire departments in 46 states, Puerto Rico and Canada, including more than $396,000 in Louisiana.

Restaurants raise funds by recycling leftover, five-gallon buckets, available to guests for a $2 donation to the foundation. Donation canisters on register counters collect spare change, while the Round Up Program allows guests to “round up” their bill to the nearest dollar.

Here are the other six fire departments that received equipment:

Central Fire Protection District 4 received a Super Duty Ford Van valued at $30,618, replacing the previous vehicle severely damaged during August’s storm during rescue operations. It will serve as a utility and tow vehicle during search and rescue missions requiring boat or all-terrain vehicle transport.

Tangipahoa Fire District 2 received two inflatable rescue boats worth a combined $42,330. The boats will be used in water rescue missions on lakes, streams and rivers, as well as during future floods, allowing firefighters to reach victims easier and faster.

St. Tammany Fire District 5 received six automated external defibrillators (AEDs) valued at $15,012. The AEDs will be placed in manned engines and squad trucks, helping ensure the department is prepared to provide medical assistance if an individual goes into cardiac arrest.

St. Tammany Fire District 3 received a CPR device valued at $15,963 that will assist firefighters by delivering uninterrupted chest compressions at a constant rate and depth to cardiac arrest patients, helping improve a patient’s chance of survival.

Scott Fire Department received a thermal imaging camera worth $12,500. The camera will be used to detect hot spots in burning buildings, as well as during search and rescue missions in area waterways, allowing firefighters to quickly locate possible victims.

Terrebonne Parish Fire Protection District No. 4A received $20,721 worth of self-contained breathing apparatus equipment, providing firefighters with necessary protection and breathable air when fighting fires.

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Kevin Fambrough is a reporter at the Livingston Parish News. He can be reached at kevinf@livingstonparishnews.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @fambroughkevin.

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