E. Feliciana seeks agreement to work with BR 911 dispatch

The East Feliciana Parish Emergency Communications Commission voted Friday to contract with its Baton Rouge counterpart to answer 911 emergency calls on a temporary basis.

The arrangement, if approved by the Communications Division of the East Baton Rouge Department of Emergency Medical Services, would continue until the East Feliciana district makes permanent arrangements to staff a call center for emergency calls, board members said.

East Feliciana Parish Sheriff Talmadge Bunch, whose employees now answer 911 calls, asked the communications board earlier this year to increase the amount it pays his office for the service, but the commission’s governing board recently voted to assume all responsibility for call-taking.

Matt Hobson, an official with Baton Rouge EMS, said discussions have been held with East Feliciana’s commission about lending help temporarily, but nothing has been formalized.

“We’re working to see how to best help them,” Hobson said.

Ben Chasteen, director of the East Feliciana commission, said the East Baton Rouge agency would answer the calls without compensation for a short period of time, but would accept some telephone headsets owned by East Feliciana as something by way of compensation.

The headsets are compatible with East Baton Rouge’s equipment, Chasteen said.

The East Feliciana board approved a “memorandum of understanding” with Baton Rouge EMS. Ray Newman, Sheriff Bunch’s representative on the East Feliciana board, objected because the document had blank spaces for some of its terms.

The approved motion included additions left blank in the written document to reflect that the agreement would be for up to six months and the switch-over would be Nov. 20.

The proposed agreement says Baton Rouge call-takers will route all medical calls to Acadian Ambulance Service and the East Feliciana Sheriff’s Office.

All fire and law enforcement calls will go to the Sheriff’s Office for dispatching, but if the sheriff’s dispatcher does not answer the Baton Rouge call after five rings, the call will be routed to State Police.

Kevin Garig, a sheriff’s deputy and firefighter, pushed without success for seven rings before the calls go to State Police, and he also questioned whether State Police dispatchers are familiar with handling fire calls.

“That’s what happens in East Baton Rouge,” commission Chairman Bill Ford said.

Newman questioned why the commission, a subdivision of the Police Jury, reportedly will end the year with only $500 in the bank.

“Where did all the money go?” he asked.

“You’re the secretary-treasurer, you ought to know,” Ford replied, but Newman said he has had that duty for only six months.

Ford later said the commission has $360,000 dedicated to equipment purchases and maintenance.

“Our operating fund is our problem,” he said.

The commission is funded by a property tax and telephone surcharges.

Newman also gave commission members a letter from Bunch in which the sheriff says he did not appreciate the panel questioning his intent and the accuracy of financial information he provided them.

The letter further criticizes the commission for “minimizing the work of the 911 operators.”

“They play an important role in the delivery of emergency services and deserve more respect than to have their role distilled to 6.5 calls per day,” Bunch said, referring to an earlier commission letter rejecting Bunch’s demand for more money.