Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker said he wants the parish's nine fire districts to consider consolidating into one parish fire district in an effort to save funds and strengthen weaker fire districts.

"The purpose is to save lives and to save money," East Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Walker said. "I believe we may be able to do both by consolidating our fire departments."

While district fire officials agreed last week that consolidation would help smaller, weaker departments, consolidation has proven to be too expensive when it was considered in the past.

"Will it be better for citizens? Without a doubt. You'll have an equal response time throughout the parish," Fire District 6 Chief Joel Hancock said. "But where is the money going to come from? That's everyone's main concern."

Walker placed an item on the Metro Council's Wednesday agenda, asking the council to consider directing the parish Fire Chief's Association to study the feasibility of consolidating and then return to the council's Oct. 26 meeting with a recommendation.

There are three municipal fire departments in the parish - Baton Rouge, Baker and Zachary - and nine fire districts operating in the parish, each with varying levels of funding, resources and fire ratings.

"Most of them are underfunded and are very small. Two are predominantly volunteer," St. George Fire Chief Gerard Tarleton said. "If you're going to bring all up to St. George's level, it's going to cost a lot of money."

St. George has a Class 2 fire rating, which is based on factors such as manpower, equipment, number of stations and types of training.

The Baton Rouge Fire Department has a Class 1 fire ranking in a Class 1 through Class 10 ranking system.

Residents living in fire districts with better rankings, with Class 1 being the best, enjoy lower insurance costs.

Chaneyville Fire Department Chief Mark Strickland said the goal of consolidating should be to make every department better, but he is concerned that doing it without proper funding could mean that some with strong protection now might end up with a weaker fire rating.

"Our goal is to provide citizens with the best possible protection while improving the fire rating to save people money," Strickland said. "(Consolidating will) take a substantial amount of money that would have to come from somewhere."

Chaneyville has a Class 5 rating and, Strickland said, the district has a plan to improve its rating.

In 2008, the parish Fire Chief's Association produced a report that said a consolidated fire district to cover the unincorporated areas of the parish should be "seriously considered."

The report listed the benefits of consolidating, including remedying staffing inadequacies in some districts, improving the parish's overall fire rating, reducing costs through volume purchasing, eliminating redundancy in hiring and repairs, and improving overall response time throughout the parish.

But the report said in order to accomplish a high level of service across the parish, millions of dollars of new equipment, additional personnel and new fire stations would have to be funded.

The proposal concluded that while a consolidation of fire services would not be "inexpensive" or "implemented overnight," it would address the "multiple inconsistent levels of service" across the parish.

Tarleton said in the long run it makes sense financially to only fund one department administration instead of 12. He also said he thinks people are confused over which fire district serves them.

But, he said, the price tag to fund the massive overhaul is what continues to stall the discussion.

"It's an issue that comes up and dies down every few years," Tarleton said. "Funding has been the single biggest thing that's stopped it in the past, and finding that funding source will probably be what stops it again."

At the same time, the Metro Council is looking at consolidating the parish's law enforcement agencies.

In April, the Metro Council voted to create a committee to study a unified parish law enforcement agency by joining the Sheriff's Office and the Baton Rouge Police Department.

Next month, the council is expected to select council members to serve on the committee.