Fire ordinance discussion set July 31 in St. Francisville

West Feliciana Parish Fire Protection District 1 officials will hold a July 31 informational forum on 13 proposed fire prevention and fire protection ordinances the district will ask the Police Jury to adopt.

The public is invited to attend the 6 p.m. meeting in the district’s administration and training center, 9892 W. Feliciana Parkway.

Fire Chief James R. Wood said the meeting will give visitors an in-depth overview of the proposed regulations and give ample time for discussion and public feedback before the changes are formally submitted to the jury.

The proposals address fire prevention inspections, “burn bans,” arson investigations, rules for providing adequate water supplies to fight fires, hazardous materials, fire reporting regulations and requirements for developers of large commercial or residential properties to set aside land for emergency response agencies.

The district excludes the town of St. Francisville, but its firefighters work with the town’s Fire Department, the fire brigades at the River Bend nuclear power plant and Louisiana State Penitentiary and West Feliciana Parish Hospital’s Emergency Medical Service paramedics.

Wood said the fire prevention measures incorporated in the ordinances were written in anticipation of possible changes in the way the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana rates fire departments in the future for insurance purposes.

“They tell us they may start moving the fire suppression rating schedule more toward a prevention mind-set and try to encourage fire departments, through the rating schedule, to take a more proactive stance,” Wood said.

A significant portion of the rating, which affects insurance costs, in the 2015-16 rating cycle could change as a result, he said.

“If we can establish these ordinances now, and affect the fire prevention side of it, when we come around to the rating after our next one, we won’t lose any points,” Wood said.

One of the ordinances would authorize the fire chief to appoint fire prevention inspectors to enforce the state’s uniform fire prevention code.

Another would authorize the chief to appoint arson investigators who would have police powers that relate to arson-related crimes.

Wood said the district’s arson investigators now are commissioned sheriff’s deputies and work with sheriff’s detectives to investigate suspected arson cases.

Wood said the arrangement has worked well and he would like to continue it, but the ordinances would give the department some leeway if Sheriff J. Austin Daniel’s successor would not be comfortable with issuing commissions to fire investigators.

Another provision would require a building with more than 10,000-square feet under roof to have a radio repeating system that would enable firefighters and law enforcement officers inside the building to communicate by radio with personnel outside.

Wood said the Fire Department operates on an analog radio system, while local law enforcement officers use a digital system. But both have difficulty in maintaining radio communications in a building the size of the parish high school, he said.