Thibodaux, La. - Rain soaked the Firemen's Fairgrounds and thunder rumbled in the sky -- weather much like the night Lee Cortez's house caught fire.
"About 13 months ago, a random lightning strike caused a fire at our house," says Cortez. "When we realized the house was on fire, we then made the call to 911 and it literally took two minutes for a fire truck to be in front of our house to begin fighting the fire."
Cortez says more than 70 firefighters showed up to help, staying late into the night cleaning up after they put the flames out. And no one on scene received a paycheck for their work that night.
The Thibodaux Fire Department is all volunteer and more than 400 members strong. The department gets half of its annual budget through a city-wide millage; the other half comes from fundraisers such as this weekend's fair.
"The fair is a major fundraiser which we really depend on every year because we're in the process of designing a new fire station," says Fire Department President Joe Ayo.
Ayo says the new fire station is vital to Thibodaux keeping its 2 rating by the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana. That rating is based on factors such as equipment, manpower, response time and training.
"Had we been in a position where we had to fund a department that provides the services that they provide for us at no charge, I'd venture to say we'd be talking about a couple million dollars a year," says Thibodaux Mayor Tommy Eschete.
Last year's fair brought in more than $640,000 and organizers hope to beat that number this year. The biggest concern is the weather.
There will be three pay-once-price days this year, when fair goers can ride as much as they want for $20. Even as the rain continues to come down, firefighters believe this weekend won't be a wash out.
For Lee Cortez, it's a chance to say thank you to the men who saved his house that stormy night.
"When you need them, they'll be there," he says. "So as a pre-payment maybe, support them at the fair, take your children, go eat because the equipment that they need to purchase is very expensive and that equipment and their training quite possibly may save your home and your possessions."
For more information on this weekend's fair, click here.
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