Lafayette (LA) Firefighter Remembered As ‘Example of What Generosity Looks Like’

Katie Gagliano

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.


Oct. 20—The Lafayette Fire Department on Tuesday said a final goodbye to a longtime firefighter who was remembered as the epitome of a compassionate, generous leader and community servant.

Fire Inspector II, Chief Keith Sonnier passed away on Oct. 11 at his home. A native of Lafayette, he graduated from the Holy Rosary Institute in 1981 and enjoyed an over 33-year career with the Lafayette Fire Department after joining the agency in 1987, according to his obituary.

Sonnier was honored with a department procession Tuesday morning followed by a funeral at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist at 1:30 p.m.

Forrest Chaisson, the department’s fire prevention chief, has known Sonnier since joining the Lafayette Fire Department more than 30 years ago. Over time, Sonnier, who was his second in command, became a close confidante and best friend. Everyone who knew Sonnier has been struck with a sincere sadness over his loss, Chaisson said.

Sonnier was the epitome of kindness, compassion and generosity. He was loyal and genuine. He took every opportunity to share love with others through acts of kindness and service, always listening closely in each conversation for small ways he could act for others, the fire prevention chief said.

Chaisson recalled a time when the men were chatting about grilling and after mentioning he needed charcoal, Sonnier appeared at the station the next day with a bag for Chaisson. Chaisson said he’s heard dozens of similar stories since Sonnier’s passing, not just from other firefighters, but from community members at businesses Sonnier frequented, childhood friends, neighbors and others.

His humanity was something special, he said.

“As I reflect back on my relationship with Keith and his passing, I realize that God sent Keith here for a purpose and I think Keith was sent here to be an example of what generosity looks like and for us to try to borrow some of that from him. The common thread I’ve heard from everyone is that he was such a nice, kind, compassionate person. He was always there to help someone. I think that’s why God allowed him to be part of my life,” he said.

Sonnier was the same man inside the station as he was outside.

He was always the first to volunteer for duties, never overlooking even the smallest tasks, and had the kind of humor and quick joke delivery that could cut through the hardest or most tense days, Chaisson said.

Sonnier was known by hundreds of children as Mr. Fireman, through his work presenting to student groups about fire prevention. A social butterfly, Sonnier would take every opportunity to get to know a person, with quick hellos often turning into long conversations, his friend said.

“For those who never had a chance to know Keith, they really missed out on a blessing. I pray to God they can meet someone like that at least once in their life,” Chaisson said.


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