Assessments of St. James fire departments complete

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 5, 2011



LAPLACE – St. James Parish government and fire officials are set to begin a three-month study of the area’s fire protection in an effort to determine the long and short-term goals of the parish fire department.

The St. James Parish Fireman’s Association will work with parish officials to assess the needs of the parish’s six fire districts. Parish spokesperson Melissa Wilkins said the parish wants to see how each district is operating now to determine where they need to be.

“The assessment will give us the opportunity to recognize the parish’s strengths and weaknesses and tackle any issues before it becomes a major problem,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said outside consultants from the South Central Planning and Development Commission will observe activity within fire districts and talk with the fire chiefs, fire department members and various government officials in the six districts.

“We think this assessment can show the areas of needed improvement in fire investigations and emergency response times,” Wilkins said. “We also hope to gain some insight regarding any potential need to change parish millages or districts.”

While considering the future growth of the parish, Wilkins said the fire service assessment is also expected to scope out what is needed as far as training and equipment for the fire districts. It will examine personnel needs and look at possible fire station improvements that may be necessary to keep parish residents safe in the event of an emergency.

“As a projection, the study can point out the number of fire fighters needed to ensure rescue, medical, hazmat and natural disaster safety based on the estimated number of future households and businesses,” Wilkins said. “Right now, surrounding homes and businesses are covered with only 90 volunteer fire fighters parishwide, which breaks down to one firefighter for every 93 structures.”

Wilkins said a comprehensive master plan for the parish performed by South Central Planning and Development showed a shortage of volunteer fireman across the board in the parish. Wilkins said over the last two or three years, the parish has seen a slow decline in ranks, and residents have expressed concerns regarding fire protection.

Because of strict guidelines set by the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana, some volunteer fire departments have faced challenges in maintaining or improving their ratings because of a lack of available resources such as the number of volunteers.

Wilkins said of the six parish fire districts, Lutcher improved in their PIAL rating, which lowered the risk of property damage in that area. She also said the South Vacherie District maintained its current status during a recent review late last year. Three of the remaining fire departments are scheduled to be reviewed this year.

The parish is expecting the results of the study during the second quarter of 2011, likely sometime in the beginning of April, Wilkins said. At that time, recommendations and other parish needs will be considered.