West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot on Feb. 13 will ask the parish council to ratify his appointment for the first parish-wide fire chief.
The parish currently has six fire chiefs who each head one of the parish’s six fire sub-districts.
But all that is about to change.
On Jan. 23, the parish council unanimously adopted an ordinance that consolidates the sub-districts and calls for a parish-wide fire chief.
The ordinance began as a bill before the state legislature in Spring 2013 after parish officials disagreed on how money should be divided among the sub-districts. On June 5 Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the bill into law, which mandated the move to one fire district and a local ordinance “relative to the district” on or before July 1, 2014.
Berthelot said of the bill in May 2013, as it made its way through the state Senate, “We wouldn’t have to split the money…We would put the money where it’s needed.”
According to the parish ordinance, the board of commissioners for the fire district will be the West Baton Rouge Parish Council, as opposed to representatives from the six fire sub-districts.
However, the ordinance maintains the sub-districts strictly for the purpose of preserving individual fire ratings of the six fire departments. Berthelot hinted that eventually the parish may try to move to consolidated ratings.
He said he has not selected a fire chief yet, but that he will announce his selection to council members and the fire departments on Feb. 10.
On Feb. 13 during a regularly scheduled parish council meeting, he will ask the council to ratify his appointment.
Berthelot said the new fire chief will have a big role in setting up the parish-wide fire district between now and July.
He said there were nine applicants for the position, four of which were out-of-state and five of which were in-state. Four of the five in-state applicants were locals already working for fire departments in the parish.
“We only interviewed the local ones,” he said.
After hiring a fire chief, the parish council will also have to, “Select the members of the Fire Civil Service Board,” per the wording of the parish ordinance penned by Baton Rouge attorney and lobbyist Dan Garrett.
The ordinance says that Berthelot will determine the fire chief’s salary, “subject to the budgetary authority of the Parish Council.”
In other news, Berthelot said he will probably give his annual State of the Parish address on Feb. 27, during the second parish council meeting in February.