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LVFD: We’re not slowing LaPlace fire protection

LAPLACE — LaPlace Volunteer Fire Department leaders say they are not the reason progress has slowed with manning the recently completed $2.9 million Fire Station #51 on Hemlock Street in LaPlace.

In a lengthy interview with L’OBSERVATEUR, LVFD Board President Rodney Barber Jr., Vice President Barry James and Board member Frank Fagot said their comments represent the board’s position concerning growing contention between LVFD and St. John the Baptist Parish Government.

The source of disagreement is over property ownership where the Hemlock Street fire station stands.

Based on advice from the District Attorney’s Office, Parish Council members tabled action last week concerning a construction change order with Aegis Construction. Council members said land ownership should be addressed before other action concerning the facility is taken.

Barber said he disagreed with the move, adding he thinks everything should be done now to pay the contractor and settle issues with building billing.

LVFD Board members contend the fire station is standing on two pieces of property, both of which are under Volunteer control.

“According to our records and the deed that should be on file, if you’re looking at the station from the railroad tracks to the middle of the station, that is owned by us and was donated by Gulf States Land and Industries,” Barber said. “The other half, from the middle of the station to Mollere Supply, the LVFD purchased that property with money from the Andouille Festival.”

Board members said their intention is not to impede fire services but simply to see the D.A.’s Office settle ownership concerns and investigate how the property can be maintained by the LVFD.

“All we wanted was a new station to do what needed to be done for the parish and residents of LaPlace,” Barber said.

Board members said they were not involved in the design process and Parish administrators scrapped work previously done by the organization with design and planning.

“As a department, we want to maintain the property,” Barber said. “From my understanding, the Parish Administration says it can’t happen that way. If they are saying they want to own the property, they can’t own it because it’s going to be converted back to Gulf States.”

Barber said the property reverts to Gulf States if the LVFD disbands. Board members maintain there is a future with the Parish’s paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters working together, but it’s going to take a level of cooperation that does not exist between those entities at the moment.

“We want the parish to recognize us as a department, recognize we own that property,” Barber said.

“I don’t see why we can’t move forward. And, we want the station named again after E.L. Fagot and say LaPlace Volunteer Department Station 51 on that building.”

Parish President Natalie Robottom said disagreement over the Hemlock Street station is a symptom of a larger problem that stems from the Parish’s transition from volunteer-only fire protection to services led by a paid department.

She says the animosity stretches back years and dates back numerous administrations when plans for combined fire services were executed poorly.

“In the end, I think it will all work out,” Robottom said. “I don’t think anyone wants to hold up fire protection, but if you don’t allow us to move into the building to provide fire protection, then that hurts the people. Whether you are a volunteer or a career firefighter, your ultimate goal should be to provide fire protection to the people.”

Robottom said the whole process has taken longer than necessary.

“We would hope that the volunteers would vote to turn this property over for fire protection, but there are some hiccups because they don’t have a functioning board,” she said. “They are not following their own guidelines and they haven’t because they don’t have the membership, so there is a lot in question.”