North Bienville Fire Department holds emergency meeting

By Paige Nash

An emergency meeting was called by the North Bienville Fire District board on Monday evening, April 3, to address the previous refusal to respond issues on Interstate 20. This was following an incident that occurred last week with a vehicular fire at the Ada Taylor exit along Interstate 20, where the North Bienville Fire Department (NBFD) refused to respond. This inaction lead to Troop G calling on dispatch and the Dubberly Volunteer Fire Department traveled into the parish to extinguish the fire.

The board immediately attempted to enter into an executive session, but the motion made by board member Pamela Davis, failed due to her term having expired in December of 2022.

This caused discussion between the board and the public in attendance.

District Attorney Daniel Newell pointed out that there were only two reasons a board would enter into an executive session, which would allow the board to continue in a private meeting within the meeting in order to discuss confidential or sensitive matters without the public present.

“I do not know what you are going to discuss. If it’s litigation or personal issues, you could, but she (Davis) made the motion to go into executive session, so the motion is not valid.” said Newell. “What I have to say right now is not subject to a executive session. I am not talking about individuals. I am talking generally about how we need to be handling things and if we are not, then what we need to do.”

The public was welcomed back to their seats.

NBFD Chief Gary Hathorn directly went into discussion addressing the issue at hand regarding the non-response on behalf of the fire department.

“We have been talking about this for quite some time and we were under the impression that all the responses we were doing up there was a courtesy,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge that is not parish property.”

Hathorn brought the option on whether or not to respond to fires on the interstate to a vote among his volunteer fire fighters and they unanimously voted to not respond.

He questioned Newell on if the interstate was included as parish property and if they were required to respond.

Newell said, “In my opinion you do have an obligation. You have taxpayers money and I don’t think ownership has any relevance as far as what fires to put out. If it does, are you going to spend the time to research ownership before you respond to a fire? I am not aware of that happening in any other districts at all.”

The DA expressed his biggest concern was liability.

“I don’t see any legal out for refusing to respond to a fire in your district. I can see situations where it’s volunteer and you don’t have enough firemen to respond, but you still make an effort,” said Newell. “Just to say we don’t own this property, so we are not responding to this fire. I don’t think that’s a good basis for refusing to respond.”

He brought it to Hathorn’s attention that if someone were to perish due to the fire departments refusal to respond, a jury would find them liable, especially if the department has a history of not responding.

Hathorn said the fire department receives the smallest fire protection millage in the parish and that they were the only ones who are responsible for any property along the interstate or railroad.

“I guess what I am going to have to do is look to try to get some federal funding or something on a regular basis,” said Hathorn.

Board member Darryl Ryder told Hathorn that he needs to hold a meeting with the volunteer fireman and make it known that they are expected to resume their responsibilities and be ready in full gear to respond from this point forward.

“Firemen take an oath to protect,” said Ryder. “We have to get them back acclimated to doing what we were doing.”

Hathorn said, “I will let them know.”

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