Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot has selected and the WBR Parish council has approved Port Allen Assistant Fire Chief Charles Stephens to be the parish-wide fire chief beginning July 1.
Four local applicants were interviewed for the position: Port Allen Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux, Brusly Assistant Fire Chief Kenny Hunt and Port Allen Fire Captain Gerald Mann.
There were five other applicants for the position.
Stephens has worked for the Port Allen Fire Department for 20 years. He also serves as the event chair for West Baton Rouge Parish’s Relay for Life and is a member of the Rotary Club of Port Allen.
He is currently making about $59,750 a year as Assistant Fire Chief of Port Allen. As parish-wide fire chief, Berthelot said Stephens will likely make around $75,000 a year and his office will likely remain in Port Allen.
Berthelot said he called every one of the parish council members on Monday, Feb. 10, to inform them of his wish to appoint Stephens. At the Thursday, Feb. 13 parish council meeting, all nine council members unanimously ratified the appointment.
The decision to hire a parish-wide fire chief came about during the Spring 2013 Louisiana legislative session, when Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill into law dissolving the parish’s six fire sub-districts in favor of maintaining ‘one fire district’ and creating fire district infrastructure directly accountable to parish government.
For about a year and a half prior to the legislative session, local officials had disagreed on the parish’s formula for divvying up sales tax revenue among the fire sub-districts, some of which experienced population increases between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. The law scrapped the formula.
State Sen. Rick Ward said of the bill last year, “We’re going to put the decision-making process in the hands of the parish council and the Parish President, and instead of dealing with a formula like we have for so many years, they [the parish] will be the deciding factor in making sure everything runs properly and the entire parish is taken care of, as opposed to just one area or the other.”
Council Chair Gary Spillman said during the Feb. 13 meeting, “It’s always better to be one big team than fighting amongst ourselves.”
Berthelot said he thinks Stephens will be able to bring the parish’s six fire departments together.
“I knew he was one of the guys who could do that,” Berthelot said.
Berthelot again urged that even though the infrastructure of the fire district may be changing, no one is losing his or her job.
Stephens said he wants to maintain the existing volunteer base while also expanding it. He said without volunteers, the district would not be able to run as efficiently.
Once outside the council chamber on Feb. 13, many firefighters personally congratulated Stephens and pledged their support. Stephens stressed how he wants to “reach out there and utilize the resources that are available.”
“You need others,” he said.