By Paige Nash and Michelle Bates
The North Bienville Fire Department has begun responding to fire calls on Interstate 20.
Newly appointed board member Bill Sims said after the emergency meeting held in April that the NBFD began responding to calls on I-20.
“They responded to one last week,” he said. “The district attorney had a meeting with them and said they had to answer calls on interstate because it was just on the verge of malfeasance in office not to calls on interstate.”
The emergency meeting was called on April 3 to address the previous refusal to respond to calls on I-20. This was following an incident that occurred the week before with a vehicular fire at the Ada Taylor exit along I-20 in which NBFD refused to respond. This inaction led to Troop G calling on dispatch and the Dubberly Volunteer Fire Department traveled into the parish to extinguish the fire.
“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,” Fire Chief Gary Hathorn 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 District Attorney Danny 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.
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