Fire department working to improve ratingsDec 4th, 2012 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: top story
It’s been nearly two years since the parish switched over from a volunteer fire department to a paid department, as part of a concentrated effort to lower fire ratings throughout the parish.
There are seven fire districts in Plaquemines Parish. The Property Insurance Association of Louisiana grades various fire protection districts on a 1 to 10 scale with 10 being the worst. According to PIAL, the current Plaquemines Parish ratings are as follows: Pointe-ala-Hache: 10; Belle Chasse: 6; Port Sulphur, 7; Buras: 10; Boothville-Venice: 7; Lake Hermitage: 10; Woodlawn/Braithwaite: 7.
“Grade 10’s are given when there appears to be no recommended fire protection, in
accordance to the Fire suppression rating schedule,” explained Blaine Rabe, Public
Protection Division Manager for PIAL, Property Insurance Association of Louisiana.
“The grades are given on a five-year cycle and every fire district in the parish can vary
on when their cycle is up.”
PIAL’s rules say that in order to receive a grade other than a 10, a fire department must meet all of the Fire Suppression rating schedule criteria which covers departmental organization, membership, training, alarm notification, quality of equipment, and housing of the equipment or fire stations.
Chief Roy Robichaux says that the fire rating improvement process is lengthy, and unfortunately, does not happen instantaneously with the hiring of paid firefighters. Instead it is the combination of adding more firefighters to the payroll, improving existing stations and equipment, building new stations, and daily training of each firefighter at each station.
Although there are around 85 paid firefighters on staff, the department still relies on
the volunteer firefighters for response times. PIAL recommends that at least four firefighters respond to a structural fire. In Plaquemines, each station is staffed with two paid firefighters for each shift, so the department still relies heavily on its volunteers for adequate response.
“Fire ratings are a big issue for people in the parish and we’re doing everything we
need to be doing to get the best rating,” Robichaux affirmed. “We still depend on our volunteers greatly, but the paid firefighters now can do what the volunteers didn’t have time to do.”
A big component of that is the meticulous equipment testing required by the National
Fire Protection Association [NFPA]. Lieutenant Justin Williams explained that everyday, the two firefighters on duty must inspect every piece of equipment, as well as the various components of each truck. The two firefighters must also complete two hours of response training every day, as required by the NFPA. If departments fail to comply with NFPA rules, regulations and guidelines, it makes it harder for them to compete for federal funding and grants.
“The NFPA makes the guidelines and we follow them,” Williams said.
Another factor that the fire department has been working on with hopes of lowering the parish’s fire rating is planning with business owners. Williams explained that the process, known as pre-planning involves getting maps of buildings, so the firefighters
know where every entrance and exit is, where gas-lines are, and any other facet of the building that could help them in the heat of an emergency.
But doing that with every business in the parish takes time, Williams says.
In terms of satisfying PIAL’s requirements for fire stations, the parish can expect to see two new fire stations in the next 18 months, one in Belle Chasse and one in Myrtle
Currently, the station serving the Ironton and Myrtle Grove area is Station 3, located next to Belle Chasse Middle School— 15 minutes away. Robichaux says that the Myrtle Grove fire station went out for bids last week, and the opening date for bids is next month.
Because of the foundation work, the time frame seems a little long, but its being built in a marshy area with unstable soil. The contractors must compact the soil to stabilize the building, which takes several months.
“We’re doing that so we can avoid problems in the future,” Robichaux said. “We’re doing everything we can from here on out to get better and better.”