The Baton Rouge Fire Department will park and stop staffing one of the only two heavy rescue trucks it has in an effort to shift resources to a new fire station being built on West Lee Drive.
The decision to move resources instead of allocating additional funds has rankled some in the department and the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro councilman in whose district the new fire station will be located.
“Leaving only one heavy rescue truck in service to cover the city limits of Baton Rouge and the automatic aid areas could put citizens and firefighters at risk in emergencies by having longer response times when more rescue equipment is needed at an emergency scene,” said Shane Spillman, union president for the Fire Department.
The rescue truck, which is different from a traditional firetruck, carries the “jaws of life” equipment and other extrication tools for car wrecks, Spillman said. It also carries rescue equipment for high-rises, confined spaces and water rescues.
Chief Ed Smith dismissed the criticism. He said not every rescue mission requires the heavy-duty equipment. He also said he will outfit nine aerial trucks, or ladder trucks, with extrication equipment that he believes will increase their response time for emergency rescue calls.
Smith said they’ll also still have access to the equipment on the truck, and the rescue vehicle itself will be held in reserve.
Spillman said last year that the rescue trucks handled a total of 162 car wrecks, 51 fires, 62 incidents where children were locked in cars and 73 times where the truck was called to assist EMS. Both rescue trucks were called for a single event at least 30 times, he said.
“If one of those rescue trucks is being taken offline, it leaves a gap in service, which is unacceptable,” said Councilman John Delgado, who now says he wouldn’t have approved construction of a new station in his district if he knew that it would sideline the rescue truck.
He said he thinks the city-parish should increase funding to the department so both the new fire station and the rescue trucks can maintain staffing.
“The city-parish should have increased the budget if it was necessary to do so to add the extra manpower and not rob Peter to pay Paul,” Delgado said.
The rescue truck staffs nine firefighters, in three shifts of three people, according to Spillman. Smith said those open positions will help the department staff the 15 new positions at the new fire station.
The St. George Fire Department, the second-largest fire department in the parish with the second-highest safety rating, has two rescue trucks.
The new station, which is not yet under construction, will be built on donated land next to Mike Anderson’s Seafood on West Lee Drive.
The need for the 20th fire station in the city has been driven by the hundreds of new apartments popping up south of LSU and recent annexations of huge swaths of land in the southern part of the parish.
The new, 7,000-square-foot station will cost $2.4 million. It’s necessary to keep the Class 1 rating, the highest safety rating a fire department can receive, which keeps insurance costs low.
Stations on Brightside Drive, Menlo Drive and Perkins Road currently cover the area, but a maximum 1.5-mile response radius from any potential structure is key to a Class 1 rating.
Smith said he has for years been evaluating ways to serve the increased needs of the city while being mindful of taxpayer dollars.
“I have a duty to respond and be responsible with taxpayer money,” Smith said. “I’m fulfilling my obligation as chief of the Baton Rouge Fire Department.”