Four years after being investigated by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and receiving a scathing audit, Chaneyville Fire Protection District 7 has earned an improved public protection classification.

Starting Monday, the classification for the majority volunteer fire district will be changed from Class 7 to Class 5, Fire Chief Mark Strickland said.

As a result, property insurance premiums for residential and commercial property owners served by the fire district will go down, Strickland said.

“It’s been a long road,” the chief said.

“But, this rating is proof the fire district is doing their part in responding to calls and that we have adequate equipment to do so.”

In 2007, a criminal investigation into the fire district led to an audit that said there were problems with the district’s payroll, expenditures and upkeep of equipment.

The audit came almost two months after the fire district’s public protection classification was bumped from a Class 6 to a Class 7.

Lack of adequate equipment, insufficient number of firefighters and not enough training were some of the reasons the district’s classification increased, according to the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana.

Strickland said the fire district’s board of directors, employees and volunteers, along with Mayor-President Kip Holden and the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council, pitched in during the past three years to strengthen the fire district’s position in the community.

The district now has a part-time, salaried chief, 15 unpaid volunteers and four paid contract firefighters, said Strickland, who came aboard as chief in 2008.

With those employees, the district is able to have one firefighter at the district’s station 24 hours a day Monday through Friday and for 12 hours a day on weekends, he said.

The district is working to increase those hours, build another station and purchase additional firetrucks, Strickland said.

Although the struggling economy is making it hard to accomplish those goals, Strickland said, the district has had some financial gains during the past two years.

Voters approved a 10-mill property tax in 2009 and renewed a $32 per structure annual fire protection fee last year, he said.

Both of those revenue streams bring in about $100,000 a year, he said.

Additional funds are sought through federal and state grants, Strickland said.

Bobby Watts, vice president of the district’s board of directors, said the district “started out with basically nothing” and has built itself back up “with a lot of hard work.”

There is still more to be done, Watts said, but “we’re doing the best we can with what we have available.”

Formed in the mid-1960s, the fire district serves about 7,000 people, Strickland said.

District 7 encompasses 87 square miles of the mostly rural Deerford, Tucker, Milldale and Blackwater area east of Zachary.

The district is generally bounded by the East Baton Rouge-East Feliciana parish line to the north, La. 67 to the west, Joor Road and beyond Reames Road to the east and north of Dyer Road to the south.