ST. FRANCISVILLE — West Feliciana Parish fire protection officials and St. Francisville aldermen on Monday reaffirmed long-standing fire department aid agreements that have been in jeopardy for several weeks because of a jurisdictional dispute.
“We’re here because I lost my temper, and I said some things about Chief Wood that I shouldn’t have said,” St. Francisville Mayor Billy D’Aquilla said to open a joint meeting of the town’s Board of Aldermen and commissioners of West Feliciana Parish Fire Protection District 1.
D’Aquilla was referring to a meeting several weeks ago in which he clashed with James Wood, chief of the district’s Fire Department.
The town has its own fire department, but its personnel and district firefighters respond together to calls inside the town or within a 5-mile radius outside the town.
The dispute arose after questions were raised about fire district investigators looking into an apparent case of arson at a U.S. 61 store in the Hardwood community. The area is within the town’s corporate limits.
The fire district dropped the investigation, but the incident raised questions about the manner in which the town annexed the area.
District board Chairman Joe Wells said he looked into the annexation and found that the affected property owners have not paid property taxes to the district since 2003, although the district’s boundaries were not amended to reflect the change.
Wells said former district Fire Chief Tommy Boyett told him the fire board members in office at the time went along with the annexation because removing a pallet plant and new commercial structures would help maintain or lower the district’s fire insurance rating.
“So I feel it’s a moot point,” Wells said of the annexation. At his suggestion, the fire board voted to ask the Police Jury to amend the district’s boundaries.
Wells also called on town officials to discuss any future annexations with the district “to see how it will affect us.”
The district board and town aldermen also voted to continue the “auto aid” agreement by which firefighters from both departments are paged simultaneously to any fire within the town or nearby areas.
The auto aid area includes the River Bend nuclear power plant, a nursing home and four schools in the Bains area.
“We owe the people of this parish the best fire protection we can give them,” Wells said.
“Under no circumstances will I tolerate a professional firefighter being abused or mistreated while fighting a fire,” Wells said, adding he will be “first to jump up and holler about it” if anyone interferes at a fire.