New recruits mean more fire protection for St. John

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – For the first time in parish history, St. John residents have the protection of full-time around-the-clock fire fighting service, thanks to an aggressive campaign to attract new paid recruits.

Parish officials announced this week that the fire department has boosted the number of paid firefighters from 13 to 25, and expects to have at least 30 by the end of this year, said St. John Public Information Officer Buddy Boe.

Boe said the push to recruit stemmed from a promise from Parish President Bill Hubbard to provide parish wide fire protection 24 hours a day, seven days a week. St. John residents approved a .25 percent sales tax back in 2004 that was to help pay for full time fire protection.

“We’re trying to live up to that promise,” said Boe. “In 2004, the voters opened the possibility of 24-hour protection, and we have made it a reality in 2008.”

St. John Public Safety Director Paul Oncale said the parish implemented a rotating schedule for the fire departments back in March where paid firefighters work one 24-hour shift, then get the next 48 hours off. He said the system, which is used at fire departments in most major cities, is enjoying more success than the parish expected.

“The guys like the shift, because they are getting two solid days off after working one full day” said Oncale. “They also have the opportunity to rest in the evening pending no calls.”

Oncale said the schedule allows for every fire district in the parish to have at least one paid firefighter manning the stations around the clock in addition to the volunteer staff. He said before the system was in place, only LaPlace’s fire district was staffed at all times.

Oncale said the boost in recruitment will put two paid firefighters on each shift in Reserve and on the west bank, and three paid firefighters per shift in LaPlace, with a fourth to come when more recruits come on in 2009. He said one shift in Garyville will have three paid firefighters, and the other will have two. A third will also be added to that shift in 2009.

Each station also has a full staff of volunteers who supplement the paid staff. Oncale said the recruitment efforts did not increase the number of volunteers, but said St. John is at a decent level at this time.

“Volunteer recruitment is a nationwide problem,” said Oncale. “We are in good shape there.”

Oncale said the LaPlace fire district has the most firefighters because it is situated in the most populated area of the parish. He said the LaPlace station gets more calls than the other three districts combined.

LaPlace Fire Chief John Snyder said the number of calls his staff gets is actually close to double the calls of the other stations. He said a big part of that is due to the fact that Laplace also handles calls regarding incidents on Interstate 10 and Interstate 55.

“The new recruits are going to really help me out,” said Snyder. “My biggest concern lately is dealing with the possibility that my two paid guys get called out to something on the highway, and we get a call about a situation in town. If they have difficulty getting back, it could lead to loss of property or life.”  

Boe said the statewide recruitment campaign was successful because St. John offers a competitive salary for its firefighters in comparison to other parishes.

“Starting salary for a St. John Firefighter stands at $29,000, which is almost $10,000 more than what places like New Orleans offers,” said Boe. “There is also no residency requirement, we take all qualified applicants.”

Oncale said the new recruits will go to the Fire and Emergency Training Institute at LSU in Baton Rouge to receive certification. He said they should all be ready for work by November of this year.