The Bienville Parish Police Jury (BPPJ) met in a special session on Wednesday, March 29. Secretary Rodney Warren brought it to the attention of the jury that there was a vehicular fire on Interstate 20 the previous night.
“Last night we had a fire on I-20 out near the Ada Taylor exit and the Dubberly fire department had to respond to that fire,” said Warren. “I just want you to be aware that the North Bienville fire department would not respond.”
The Dubberly Volunteer fire department was dispatched.
“Troop G called our dispatch. Fire District 4 in Dubberly and District 10 were dispatched to the scene. We were a little ahead of District 10, so they ended up not needing to come out,” said Dubberly VFD Chief Ronnie Chreene. “They told us that the Bienville Parish Fire District was not responding.”
A U-Haul service truck caught fire due to a maintenance issue.
Chreene said, “It was pretty much burnt up when we got there, and we extinguished it.”
The question is why did the North Bienville Fire Department Chief, Gary Hathorn, reportedly refuse to respond?
According to the Bossier Parish Tax Assessor’s website, Hathorn currently resides in Benton, which is approximately a one-hour commute to Bienville Parish.
Bienville Parish Sheriff John Ballance was in attendance and mentioned this has been an ongoing issue in the past.
He said, “This isn’t the first time that he has refused to respond to a fire on the interstate. He (Hathorn) said if there are no injuries, or nobody is trapped, he is not going to put out a fire on the interstate unless the state pays him.”
BPPJ Vice-President Darryl Ryder also serves on the Bienville Parish Fire District’s board. According to Ryder this issue has been addressed at previous board meetings, but no resolution has been met thus far.
“This discussion was brought up in one of our board meetings and I had the same type of questions about not responding and the same kind of answer was given; that they do not have to respond because it is a state highway. I told him then there were going to be some issues and issues are here and I am aware of them,” said Ryder.
He questioned Chief Hathorn asking him, “How do you not go out to a fire that is in your parish and it’s your job to respond and the reply was, ‘I am putting my firemen in harm’s way,’ but they are in harm’s way if they go to a regular house fire.”
District 1 Bill Sims weighed in on the issue.
Sims said, “That chief they have down there needs to come before the jury. We need to ask him some questions. I think at the next jury meeting, let’s invite him and find out what’s going on.”
BPPJ Jerry Bates agreed to invite Chief Hathorn to the next regular scheduled police jury meeting to explain the department’s refusal to respond when they are being dispatched.
Ryder said, “I believe in doing right, that’s the bottom line. Feelings might get hurt in the process, but if it’s the right thing to do then it’s the right thing and not responding to fires just because it’s on I-20- that’s not right. I understand every time people go out there that it’s a possibility something might happen but when you volunteer you take an oath to do that and that’s the way it is. If that’s not what you want to do, then you need to get off the fire department and I have told him (Hathorn) the same thing.”
Ryder asked Bienville Parish District Attorney Daniel Newell if this was a legal issue.
Newell said, “That’s getting close to malfeasance, just to decide and pick and choose the fire you want to respond to. God forbid somebody died for the delay.”
North Bienville Parish fire department Chief Gary Hathorn could not be reached for comment.
The next scheduled meeting will be held at the Bienville Parish Courthouse on April 12 at 9 a.m.