Ground broken for new Venetian Isles firehouse

Officials broke ground Wednesday on a new firehouse in Venetian Isles, the last step in giving the firefighters who serve the far reaches of Orleans Parish a permanent home for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.

Firefighters at Engine No. 31 have lived a transient life since the August 2005 storm flooded their home at 4300 Alba Road. After working out of trailers at the site of the firehouse, they moved to a warehouse about a mile-and-a-half away from their former site.

“We’ve got some good men and women out there, and they never complained,” New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Charles Parent said.

In the coming months, those firefighters will move into the new 7,800-square-foot firehouse designed to withstand future storms. Its ground floor will be able to house two trucks, while the second floor will include living quarters for the firefighters, a change from the previous slab structure.

“We can be proud of it as a fire department,” Parent said.

He said the design is a prototype for future firehouses to ensure they can reopen as quickly as possible if they ever flood.

The building will cost $3.7 million, with $3 million coming from FEMA; $649,700 coming from insurance; and $4,762 from bonds.

Architect Doug Bruza said last month that the contract is for a year, so the work must be completed by late 2013 at the latest, though officials have said they hope to have the work done by October.

The roughly 1,100 people who live in the Venetian Isles, Irish Bayou, Lake Catherine and Fort Pike areas, which Engine No. 31 serves, had been without proper fire protection for years following the August 2005 hurricane.

Though the Fort Pike Volunteer Fire Department built a new firehouse two years ago, it wasn’t until April that it received a new truck.

Meanwhile, the NOFD’s efforts to respond quickly to any emergencies on the 9-mile spit of land between lakes St. Catherine and Pontchartrain were affected by the extra stretch of road its firefighters had to travel, since they weren’t positioned at their previous location in Venetian Isles.

“Every second counts,” Parent said.