St. John hiring firefighters

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 28, 2004

By SUE ELLEN ROSS – Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – A paid fire department in the Tri-Parishes area is almost a reality, as the St. John Parish Councilapproved an ordinance Tuesday that will give local government the authority to begin hiring permanent firefighters.

The plan to add paid workers to the volunteer force was made possible by a 1/4-cent sales tax increase, jumping it to a 1/2-cent sales tax.

Voters approved this increase in an election that took place in May 2003. Tax collecting began in January 2004.

It was decided by the council that this money would be put into a fund for development of a full-time, paid fire department.

Previously, monies from sales tax revenue had been spent toward training and equipment. Now, it will be used for worker’s salaries and benefits.

According to staff recommendations listed in the ordinance, salaries for 18 positions will come from the fund.

The breakdown covers four part-time fire chiefs at $1,000 per month ; two full-time fire captains at $2,400 per month; and 12 firefighter/operators at $1,700 per month. In addition, the ordinance lists a future hire of five captains and six firefighters.

Former volunteer firefighter Warren Torres told the council on Tuesday that he did not like the idea behind the ordinance. “You better make sure you have this all right,” he told the council. “I think this is an insult to every volunteer firefighter if you are going to pay these part-time chiefs $1,000 a month.”

Council member Lester Rainey also voiced concern about this pay for the part time fire chiefs. “I’m wondering if this will cause any contention among the volunteers?” he said.

Two current chiefs answered his question.

Helmond Lumar, Fire Chief of the West Bank Fire Station, said he sees no problem with the ordinance “Our volunteers are looking forward to having paid firefighters, this will be a plus. He added that the paid firefighters would definitely be supported by the current volunteer force.

Reserve Fire Chief Glenn Bourg agreed with Lumar. “This (hiring paid firefighters) will only re-enforce the volunteers and make a better St. John,” he said. “We are going to have growing pains, but it’s going to work.”

The deadline for applications for the paid positions was March 18. Since most of the current firefighters volunteer part time, and have other employment, many didn’t apply for the new positions. Of the 26 applications received, 18 will be filled.

Within one year, a Civil Service System will have to be established. At that time, applicants will have to take a Civil Service test.

Finally, the council approved giving the parish president and the public safety director the authority to hire the paid staff.