IN THE BEGINNING…DISTRICT NO. 6
By: Barbara McGowan
When asked to write a story about
the beginnings of the Keithville Fire Department, I figured, “How
hard can it be?” My family had moved to Keithville in 1968, so I
have about thirty-five years of knowledge at the get-go. Right?
During those years, it seems I didn’t take the
time to find out about the Keithville Fire
Department. You might call that apathy, and
you would probably be close to the truth.
It’s not that I wasn’t interested or didn’t care.
I was, like so many other Keithville residents,
busy with my life, and since no family members or
neighbors were firefighters, my attention was
So, unless an emergency happened
as it did on a few occasions—like when our neighbor collapsed
after cutting down a tree…or the few times another neighbor set
his pasture on fire---I didn’t give much thought about those
folks who were busy trying to provide the growing community of
Keithville with fire and EMS protection. To make a long story
short, I had to get out there and talk to a few people who did
know. One of those was Brandon Clingman.
I arrived at the home of Brandon
and Alma Clingman in the middle of a beautiful April afternoon.
Mrs. Clingman was kind enough to call her husband from the barn
where he had been doing some clean-up and reorganization work.
Since his name had been given to me as someone who knew about the
beginnings of the Keithville Fire Department, I was looking
forward to talking about old times with him.
When I asked ninety-one year old Clingman when he started fighting fires, he smiled and explained
that as long ago as his twenties, he had a tractor and had always
responded to those area fires near enough to him that he could
get there with his tractor to plow around the fire to help
So when did the Keithville volunteers get together
to start fighting fires, I asked. He thought
about that and said it was the early 1970’s when
the bunch of guys that included Jim Clark, Gerald
Morgan, Buck Sowell, John McGrew, Jim Clark, Jr.
and himself got together and, with Billy Walker’s
help and encouragement, decided it was time they
took definite steps to provide firefighting
equipment and manpower for folks in the Keithville
“We talked about it and ended up
going to El Dorado where we bought an old used fire truck.” Clingman said they didn’t pay much for it because it was already
worn out when they got it. But after they all worked on it, the
truck ran and did a good job for them until it just finally gave
up the ghost. “There was room in the back of Bill Morgan’s Radio
Repair Shop on the Old Mansfield Road, and he let us keep the
truck there when it wasn’t being used,” he recalled.
After the group made arrangements
with the telephone company to have the fire number ring
simultaneously at all the firefighter’s homes, they were in
business. “The firefighters would each pick up the phone and go
to wherever the fire was.” To save time Jim Clark or Clingman
would take the truck and meet the other volunteers at the
location. It became easier to get the firefighters to fires when
firefighter McGrew’s wife started manning a radio station. “She
did a terrific job monitoring that station. Each man had a radio
and she served as the central point of information.”
Where were they getting water to
fight fires, I wanted to know. “We put a 500 gallon tank on the
old truck and eventually bought two other trucks with 1000
gallons and one with 2000 gallons storage. We just filled them
up out of my pond,” he said, pointing to the beautiful 20-acre
pond rippling brightly in the April sunshine. “We never did come
close to pumping all the water out of it.” We laughed.
Some time later, a metal building
was built on the corner of Keithville-Keatchie Road next to where
Jim Clark’s gun shop was at that time. “That building was used
for years and is still there,” Clingman added.
“The volunteers kept fighting
fires as long as one of them had enough money to fill up the
tanks. When it finally got too big for the volunteers to
continue, the parish took it over,” he remarked.
When I asked who he remembered
being the best firefighter during the early days, Clingman smiled
and said he didn’t have to think hard to answer that one. “Jim
Clark, Jr. was young and more fit than the rest of us. We called
him ‘Little Jim’. He would get in there and do whatever needed to
be done. I’ve seen him hang onto the rafters by one arm, above a
fire, and train a hose on the fire below. That was not an easy
feat, because a fire hose has a lot of pressure. He always got
the job done,” Clingman said.
A few days later, I caught up with Jim Clark, Jr.
at his gun shop near Haughton. He told me he
got involved with the volunteers at about age 15
and agreed that it was 1972 or 1973 when the group
took on the challenge of providing firefighting
services for the Keithville area.
“At one time our volunteer group
maintained the largest fire district in Louisiana, stretching
from the Texas line to Red River. And we did it all without
funding,” he said. Taking matters into their own hands, the
group worked hard putting on many fund raisers as the need for
additional equipment increased.
“We rented the building where the
old skating rink used to be at Linwood and Flournoy-Lucas Road.
Every Monday night, we sponsored Bingo to raise money for the
department. Another project was chicken dinners that group
members cooked and sold as often as they could,” Clark said.
added that Shreveport was good about helping out when the
Keithville firefighters needed additional resources, but at the
same time, they helped Shreveport when there was a need.
“One of those times involved a
train that was spewing fire all along the railroad track due to
the fiber washer that the train rides on being on fire,” Clingman
explained. “It was heading into Shreveport setting fires along a
ten-mile area.” He said that Shreveport’s equipment was too
sophisticated and couldn’t get on the track to fight the fire,
but the volunteers got their 4-wheel drive, ¾ ton truck,
straddled the tracks and used a 2000 gallon tank to fight the
whole area that was burning. “We kept hauling water till we
finally got it out.”
One year during a particularly windy April when
folks were clearing land in different parts of the
district, seven fires got to going at the same
time. “Since we didn’t have but two trucks
at that time, Shreveport and Greenwood both
pitched in to help,” Clark said.
Maybe that was when Burn Permits came into being,
At one time Keithville had as many as seven trucks
in service. “We bought the chassis, designed
and built the trucks to our needs,” Clark added.
With Keithville volunteers
working regular jobs and covering the increasingly large area,
they eventually met with Springridge citizens and told them they
would have to start their own group because it was too much for
Keithville to continue handling. The Springridge group agreed
and Keithville gave the group one of the trucks as incentive.
“We also talked with folks in Stonewall and Dixie
Gardens, and they agreed the need was there to
start their own groups,” Clark said.
Clark and Clingman talked about
the training they received that gave them an edge on knowing what
to do in emergencies. Both men said that LSU sent trainers out
to work with the firefighters to teach them what they needed to
know, and that the Shreveport and Logansport Fire Departments
helped with training.
“We fought fires and did everything that needed to
be done, from first aid to delivering babies,”
As to the worst fire they fought, both men agreed
that the worst was an apartment complex on the
Mansfield Road. “It was our first structure
fire,” Clark said, “and we hadn’t been trained on
what to do and when to do it.”
told about a situation that occurred north of Shreveport where
the North Hearne Extension is located. A waste paper company had
a fire and got it put out, but when they started hauling the
burnt debris by truck to a dump, much of it was blown off or fell
off onto the neighboring streets. “It was a mess because the
debris was slick paper. Cars were sliding on it and there had
already been four or five wrecks. The City called us for help,
and we hauled 2000 gallons of water to the site and hooked it up
to their fire truck for pressure to wash the debris off the
streets.” After spending four hours and refills amounting to
about 10,000 gallons of water, Clingman said they got the area
cleaned up and safe again for traffic.
Had either Clark or Clingman been
personally struck by fire or emergency? Clingman said he was,
and the ironic thing about it, when it happened to him, he and
his wife were out of town—visiting in Texas. A neighbor called
and gave them the news that lightning had struck the Clingman
dairy barn and the resulting fire had burned it to the ground.
Both men remembered the time in
1975 when Jim Clark, Sr.’s house caught on fire. While they were
successful at saving the rest of the house, one room was
destroyed. Clingman was one of the firefighters and had gone to
the fire dressed in his sheriff’s uniform. “The ladder I was
standing on fell and I landed in the big middle of the fire.”
His main thought at the time, he said, was to get his pistol out
of harm’s way. Other than a few bumps and bruises and a dirty
uniform, he was not hurt.
talked about the camaraderie during the early days. “During
fourteen or so years that the volunteers were active, none of us
ever argued about anything. Jim Clark, Sr. served as Fire Chief
the entire time. We had meetings once a month and we discussed
the activities of the prior month and decided what needed to be
done. We would talk until we agreed and that was it. It was an
excellent organization of a growing group of people giving their
time to help the community,” he said.
As I put my notes together to write this article,
I felt proud to have played a small part in
bringing memories of a bygone era to light so that
all of us can appreciate those firefighters who
were there at the beginning, interest and brave
enough to do what needed to be done. They
started a fine tradition of dedication, community
service and participation that is continued today
by firefighters, EMS, and volunteers of Keithville
Fire District No. 6.