West Baton Rouge moves to create parishwide fire district

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK Port Allen Fire Department Capt. Jason Henderson cleans the station bay Thursday. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK Port Allen Fire Department Capt. Jason Henderson cleans the station bay Thursday.

The West Baton Rouge Parish Council unanimously adopted a resolution Thursday night accepting authority from the state Legislature to create a parishwide fire district by July 1, 2014.

The Legislature approved an act earlier this year enabling West Baton Rouge to form the new consolidated fire district.

The Legislature acted after parish officials were unable to reach a compromise about how to divide about $2.5 million in annual fire protection sales tax revenues among six fire subdistricts.

The new fire district will be made up of six fire subdistricts covering Port Allen, Addis, Brusly, Lobdell, Erwinville and Rosehill.

The complicated move sparked concerns during the meeting from Erwinville volunteer firefighters who expressed doubts their input would be heard during consolidation negotiations.

“It seems unusual that all of a sudden we have to make a new (fire district),” said David Reeves, one of the volunteers. “My concern is everything hasn’t been properly considered. I’m afraid smaller departments will be left out. It helps us to be involved. We need equipment to be able to do what we do.”

The Erwinville firefighters also raised questions about how the Parish Council intends to fairly distribute the $2.5 million and whether the consolidation would harm their subdistrict’s positive fire rating.

“Erwinville has a Class 3 rating; we worked hard to get that,” Erwinville Fire Chief Robby Smith told the council.

The Property Insurance Association of Louisiana annually rates fire districts on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best. Insurance companies use fire ratings to develop premiums for homeowners and commercial properties.

Council President Gary Spillman told Smith that parish officials plan to meet shortly with PIAL representatives to discuss how fire ratings would be affected by the creation of the new district.

Spillman also assured the volunteer firefighters in the audience that their concerns would be addressed during consolidation talks beginning in July.

“We are going to try and make it better for everyone,” Spillman said. “The only way we can make this work is if we have the volunteers. I expressed to the (parish) president that if we don’t have the volunteers, I’m not supporting this.”

Parish President Riley “Peewee” Berthelot said the governing bodies in Brusly, Addis and Port Allen also will have to unanimously adopt similar resolutions before the planning meetings begin.

“Everybody is going to have their input,” Berthelot said.