September 1991- As Saddam’s troops retreated from Kuwait in the first Gulf War, they set fires in the Kuwaiti oil fields that threatened massive environmental and economic damage. Coalition leaders put out an emergency call for firefighters, and many countries and groups responded. One of these groups was the Volunteer Fire department of New Iberia, Louisiana, under the direction of Fire Chief Antoine Landry. “$50,000 per man”, he told his crew, “and dere are 7 of us. So how many dollars do that make it, Sgt. Cheramie?” On being told the amount, Chief Landry got on the phone and offered his unit’s services. At first, their offer was refused, as their equipment was not modern enough, But he was so insistent that the head of the task force in Kuwait told him okay, but they would have to make their own way to the Gulf. “Dat’s no problem, deah. My cousin Minor, he got him’s self a supply boat. We put da truck on da deck, an’ we get dere in no time. Dese fires, dey gon’ wait some on us”.
Two weeks later, the Crew Supervisor was looking at Chief Landry and his six-man crew of ill-equipped, seasick, grungy Coon-asses in a 1948 Ford truck, with a hand-pump watergun mounted on it, two buckets of baking soda in the bed, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “Well, I made a deal, and I will put you to work. Just over that hill, Chief? There is a fire that we have contained, but is still smoking a bit. Go stand watch over that, make sure that it does not flare up again, while we deploy in the valley below and work out how to douse that huge flame-out that we call the Lake Of Fire. Landry saluted, got back into the Ford, and Sgt. Cheramie took off in the direction his chief indicated, all but one of the truck’s cylinders firing in near-perfect order. Shaking his head, the Supervisor walked back in his office to plan the fight on the Lake of Fire.
No sooner had he sat down, and his assistant came in with a worried look. “Sir”, he said, “They went right past that smoldering rig, and they are going downhill towards our staging area”. Furious at being disobeyed, the Super went up in his tower to see for himself. He focused his binoculars just in time to see the old truck disappear into the swirling smoke of the biggest fire in all of Kuwait. “Ohmigod, I should never have let them go. Those crazy fools are doomed!”
But through the shifting smoke, he saw the men jump out of the truck, grabbing axes and baking soda, Landry shouting orders, the men rushing to and fro, as the smoke again blocked the view. The next time he could see them, three of the fellows were manning the hose, misting the very heart of the flame, while the others maniacally shoveled sand onto the conflagration surrounding them. The super felt a thrill in spite of himself, watching this brave foolhardy crew battle insurmountable odds. Painful minutes passed, and the smoke cleared for the last time. The fire was out. They had done it! While hundreds of the best firefighters in the world stood by, these bayou boys had done the impossible. Filled with a love and admiration for these heroes, he drove himself at breakneck speed down to the site of the former inferno.
Landry was leaning against the old truck, face blackened, firesuit still smoking. The crew was laying about, exhausted and sooty, but unharmed. The supervisor jumped out of his car, rushed over to Landry, and shook his hand and slapped him on the back. “Chief, that was the single greatest firefighting effort I have ever seen or heard of! I am sorry that I harbored any doubts about you and your guys. You are heroes’ heroes! ” Whipping out his checkbook, he said “You and your men are getting paid on the spot, with a bonus for your fire department!” Landry took the check, whistling softly. “Shar, dat dere is a lot of zeroes, yah!’
“You earned it, Chief, you and your men”. “I bet you got lots of plans for that money. You could build a new fire station, get modern equipment, start fire-education courses….” . “Oh yeah,” Landry interrupted. “We gon’ get to all dat, dere. But first t’ing we gon’ do, is we gon’ get some new brake shoes put on dis ‘ol truck, yah!”