The FIRST female firefighter to die in the line of duty in the state of Louisiana, Firefighter Ronda Sylvest Varnado was driving a fully-loaded 3000-gallon tanker en route to a house fire when the truck left the roadway and struck an embankment. The tank came loose and crashed into the cab, causing her instant death; the FIRST female LODD in the state of Louisiana. She was 54 years old.
Ronda was a retired nurse who logged more than her share of life-saving heroics as an ER nurse working with various accident victims. She cared deeply for people and refused to give up on her patients, sometimes even after the doctors had stopped their efforts. In 2012, she brought her tenacity and drive to her new purpose in life as an emergency responder with Washington Parish Fire Protection District, where her brother is the fire chief. Her philosophy was, “If you can’t go all in, maybe you shouldn’t go at all.”
Her dedication was more than just a philosophy. Ronda maintained a training attendance record near 100% and was known to leave a buggy full of groceries in the checkout line to respond to a call. She even left her mother in the doctor’s office on one occasion. In 2016, when our department fielded a total of 186 calls, she made 185 of them! The only call she missed was because she was in the hospital herself for a few days.
A lifelong resident of Franklinton, Louisiana, Ronda was an active member of Victory Baptist Church. She left behind her husband, Harold; two grown sons, Jacob and Jared; her parents, Lawrence and Nell Sylvest; one sister, Kathy Sylvest; and a brother, Larry Sylvest.
At the time of her tragic accident the fire department had just begun work on a new 5600 square foot fire station designed to house six fire apparatus as well as classroom and operational space. The governing board of the district saw fit to name the new station the Ronda Sylvest Varnado Memorial Station as a tribute to her dedication and service. In addition, the Washington Parish Council, the governing body of the local parish, created the Ronda Sylvest Varnado Memorial Award, intended to be presented to any individual who somehow goes well above and beyond in the scope of their emergency/law enforcement duties. Ronda was named as the first recipient of the award.
While she is terribly missed, the legacy she has left behind is a continued source of inspiration and pride.