City-parish government is paying to add part-time staff at fire departments in Milton, Judice and Duson, all of which have had trouble finding enough volunteers to cover rural fire calls in western Lafayette Parish.
This week, the City-Parish Council signed off on spending about $110,000 a year for two part-time firefighters at the Milton Volunteer Fire Department, two at the Judice Volunteer Fire Department and one at the Duson Volunteer Fire Department.
The departments, particularly in Judice, have had difficulty recruiting volunteers, and fire departments in Lafayette and Scott have routinely been covering fire calls in western areas of the parish.
“We have not been able to get enough volunteers,” said Councilman Jared Bellard, who represents the Judice community. “It got to the point where we were relying too much on outside agencies.”
Hiring paid staff to help out at the largely volunteer fire departments in rural areas was one of the main recommendations by a consultant city-parish officials hired to evaluate fire protection in the parish.
Baton Rouge-based fire protection consultant Thomas Cassisa told the council earlier this year that one-third of the households in Lafayette Parish are in unincorporated areas with no full-time fire departments.
He said volunteers to battle those blazes are getting harder to come by, a trend seen across the country.
City-Parish Councilman Jay Castille, a retired firefighter who has been working to address rural fire issues, said the new part-time firefighters will likely work during the day, when it is most difficult to round up volunteers, and also will be responsible for record-keeping and making sure equipment is kept in working order.
Castille said he considers the new part-time positions only the first step in addressing the critical gap in rural fire protection.
“It’s a short-term fix because we are going to have to look at something else, a more permanent solution to these issues,” he said.
A citizens committee that is now finalizing a report on city-parish finances has discussed the possibility of new taxes to support rural fire protection, but no formal recommendation has been made.
Any new tax would need the approval of the City-Parish Council and the voters.
Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.