Chief reports fire Dist. 11 progress, discusses issues

Since being reorganized almost a year ago, Fire Protection District 11’s volunteer fire department has made positive strides.

Chief Clarence Clark addressed the parish council Wednesday to give an update on the department’s progress but upon questioning also disclosed that it is experiencing discord with the St. Mary Parish Fire Association, which is a membership club of parish fire departments.

In his update, Clark said the department that provides fire protection in western St. Mary, had 256 calls in 2011, all of which were approved by the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

All of the department’s vehicles are in top condition and two new fire apparatus units and the first mobile cascade unit in the parish are on order, he said.

Personnel continue to train and receive certification, he said. The department now has seven members certified in haz-mat operations and 23 as first responders. The department also has a certified arson investigator and has hired two firefighters to man the department at night.

“Average department response time is six minutes and the national average is seven minutes,” he said.

Clark added that the department is recognized by the state Fire Marshal’s Office and state Fire Association as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“But we’re currently are not recognized by the St. Mary Parish Fire Association,” he said, which has denied it membership.

When questioned by Councilman Butch Middleton, District 2, Clark said that about two weeks ago when the Franklin Fire Department was battling an apartment complex fire and calling for manpower from other departments, firefighters from his department were turned away.

“We were told, ‘We do not want your help, you can go back to your station,’” Clark said. He added that two days later a Franklin assistant fire chief came to the District 11 station and threatened Clark with arrest if he came back to Franklin.

Councilman David Hanagriff, District 3, said he didn’t think it was fair to continue discussion without all parties present, and told Clark to come to the next fire association meeting to work out their differences.

Hanagriff said it was simply a matter of the department obtaining a charter from the state.

The Rev. Craig Mathews, former councilman and current Four Corners resident, however, accused the association of discrimination.

He called for a meeting of all mayors of the parish so they can all be apprised of the situation.

He said Clark has been told by other members of the association, “Chief, if you want to get anything done in this parish, you’re going to have to learn how to kiss some butt, you’ve got to learn how to play some politics.”

He said he would not stand by and “watch this type of discrimination,” Mathews said.

Hanagriff again invited Clark and Mathews to attend the next fire association meeting on May 17 at 7 p.m. at the Baldwin Fire Department.

“We’ll work this out,” he said.

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