Livingston Parish Fire Protection District 4 Needs Our Help!

About This Episode

In this special episode, Livingston Parish Fire Protection District 4 Chief James Wascom and Board Chairman Robert Dugas discuss the urgent need for an additional millage which will be on the April 30th ballot to support a Fire District that is stretched very thin using resources from a millage that has not been increased since 1975.

Transcript (Beta)

hey everyone and welcome back to another edition of local leaders of the podcast and today we are joined by two good folks from the fire department and there is not a fire going on at my facility so that’s that’s the good news today we’re going to talk about a proposed millage that they will be they’re requesting and this is fire district 4 the wonderful brave people of fire district 4. april 30th 2022 on the ballot there is going to be a proposed millage to support them and today we welcome mr james wascomb and mr robert dugas to local leaders of podcast so welcome to both you folks thanks for having us so we were talking a little bit earlier and uh and i discussed you know one of the advantages of a podcast or any type of news source is you can sort of explain what’s going on with these millages no matter what it is whether it’s uh you know something for drainage something for the fire department something for the police department you name it uh and when i was researching your stuff the first thing i found very interesting is you have had the same millage since 1975 correct wow that’s a long time since so i’m thinking y’all don’t ask for stuff too much unless you need it we try not to the last time we asked for anything was back in 1996 yeah requested the 32 user fee yes which voters passed in 97. and another thing that surprised me uh was the size that district 4 covers in livingston parish it’s enormous livingston parish is 703 square miles yes and our fire district covers 225 square miles of that that’s unbelievable and you know really if you put it down to the amount of people i guess that y’all cover it’s pretty much 50 percent of the parish we’re we have roughly a 64 000 person population within our fire district wow i think the is 128 138 000 somewhere in that neighborhood yeah yeah so uh vast area is it the biggest district in the parish as far as fire departments uh the next closest district to us would be fire district 2 which is 150 square miles but a lot of theirs is lake marpaul yeah rural fall river you know those types areas i got you i got you so currently and we’ll go ahead and get into millages you’re at a you’re at a 10 mill uh uh the people pay on their property tax uh every year that they get in and you’re asking for an increase on that and what do you what are you asking to increase two we currently have the 10 and we’re asking for an additional 15 for combined 25 meals 25 meals and uh to put that into perspective folks i got curious after after i was given this information and i you know did my research went online and kind of compared them to some other districts in the state relative to size that are pretty much not the exact same size but larger departments uh one of them i came across was the slidell area department i can’t remember the fire district that is but they have a 35 mil and then the mandeville area the district that covers them has a 26 mil and they’re they’re all relatively the same size as far as the area they cover so this is not anything out of the box to put it to put it bluntly uh and in my opinion you’ve been underfunded a long time we we’ve done the best we could with what we had yeah and we feel we have been very good stewards of the taxpayers dollars 100 oh but now it’s time yeah and the only way for us to improve our fire department and lower the homeowners insurance rates is to add personnel yeah and the only way we can do that now is just to hire yeah volunteers are down across the country why do you think that is i think everybody’s just got so much going right now yeah and the demands of the fire service uh it doesn’t matter if you’re a volunteer guy or a career guy the demands are there you have the same amount of training you have to do uh and you still have to respond to those alarms and work your full-time job at the same time and a lot of people now working two jobs instead of one job yeah so they just that’s a great point and their children are in sports it’s just life is so fast-paced now it sure is and and uh to put it into perspective uh in 1975 it was your district fire department was an all volunteer department yes now you have 20 paid personnel on staff still yet you get the same millage so it doesn’t doesn’t take a rocket scientist and of course you have people coming in and uh and that helps increase what you’re getting coming into your fire department but it doesn’t keep up with the cost of inflation especially the last year everything has just skyrocketed cost on everything right in 1976 we purchased our first four fire trucks brand new yeah they were twenty nine thousand six hundred dollars a piece that’s a bargain and today to get that equivalence you’re at half a million dollars wrap your mind around that people from from say 30 grand to a half a million in in that shorter time period and especially when you’re only getting you know you’re only getting that 10 millage uh it’s hard to keep up right and and things become i would think things become obsolete and you you know you can’t number one you don’t want to cheap in your fire department you don’t want to you know and and especially with fire trucks uh parts just become more expensive to build the fire truck so um so yeah that’s that’s a good example of how much things have increased over that amount of time yeah one of the things you know during the research you know for this we is we looked at what it cost and it it’s basically nine thousand dollars it costs to suit up a firefighter that’s his bunker gear scba’s helm and everything so um nfpa requires you to the the shelf life of that equipment’s only 10 years from the date it’s manufactured yes so from the date it’s manufactured we have 10 years to use it before we have to change it out so yeah no choice there there’s no choice it could be brand new doesn’t matter you got to change it out right you know like she’s tall by not just the equipment but you know the fire bunker gear the scba’s um you know just so much stuff that we have that we have to routinely maintain and update it um even we just got through doing some fire flows we have to you know some of the requirements for us is we have to flow test and maintenance all the fire hydrants so you know that’s a cost that we have to incur that’s you know part of what we do but you know there’s no hey here’s some here’s some money to go do that with yeah so it has to come out of the budget somewhere um you know one of the the the biggest numbers that i noticed when we did it was if you look at the fire district uh according to the assessor we have 407 million dollars of assessed property in our district yeah so we basically we collect 2.6 million with that 10 mil yeah so so with 400 million dollars we’re getting 2.6 to protect it

that’s an eye opener i mean it really is and it’s amazing to me that you’ve went this length of time and just you know it speaks to taking a dollar and just basically allocating it and getting the most use out of it but it sounds to me like you’re at a point you just can’t make it stretch anymore well over the last five to seven years i would say we have been researching options uh to to try and avoid this but the only thing we could do is we have our user fee which is 32 across the board yeah we could go up on commercial on our user fee but that’s going to bring in another 600 000 yeah and to do what we need to do we need another three and a half to four million dollars to to do that and to provide the service that our taxpayers deserve yes yes i mean another another thing that has changed since you know the last time this millage came up in 1975 was the fact that uh the fire stations themselves have increased you have what four back then we had four we took in the village of port vincent roughly 1988 89 which brought us to our fifth station now we’re at 10 and planning the construction of our 11th here soon wow wow so and all on the same village folks so that you know there’s a vast number of reasons that this is being requested and like these guys we were talking earlier and they said man we don’t like paying taxes no more than anybody else and uh but there’s some places where they’re just they’re just needed and one thing we are very proud of jim is we have constructed two new fire stations yes we bought five apparatus in 2015. and we’ve paid for those they’re we are debt-free wow and how you like that from uh look that’s huge we have stretched our partners yeah to where today we are debt-free that’s a that’s a beautiful thing and and very important in business and very rare in government you know what i mean like any any type of public service good luck finding people that are debt-free in in their in their uh public service facilities and y’all are and that’s that’s an impressive thing so that tells you uh they know what they’re doing with their dollars that they are receiving and they’re not wasting those this millage when it gets passed y’all see how it did that when it gets passed uh it it’s it comes up how many years so how many years would this millage be in existence until it’ll be for 20 years 20 years it will take effect in 2022 so this this year and it will expire in 2042. there you go so and then at that point it would go back to the voters back to the voters for renewal very good and and to kind of to kind of paint a picture of the call volume that these guys get relative to back then in 1975 they had 600 calls roughly that year now about 7 200. 7 242 we finished out 2021 unbelievable and if you think these guys only put out fires you you would be uh way mistaken that’s a that’s just a small percentage of the calls you get right approximately 85 of our calls are medical emergencies yeah and we’re dispatched along with with the ambulance service and our guys go out and they they treat the patient until acadian gets on scene and relieves them of the duty yeah many times y’all are the first ones you know in the in the in the calls that i’ve seen you’re the first ones there and we have public assist so if someone falls yeah they need help getting up we we go out and help them with that you know so it’s right it’s more than firefighting we do the firefighting we do the medical emergencies you know it’s a little bit of everything right and you know i i even did some research to compare uh what y’all the millage that you receive versus like other districts in livingston parish one of them is uh french settlements district and they’re they’re pretty much at all volunteer department i believe uh and they get a 16.91 mill on their tax so uh you know i mean that’s that’s pretty impressive and they’re all volunteer and you’re in right now you’re receiving less than that um and you got 20 people on your staff that that uh you have salaries for and everything so the need is that’s our full-time staff yeah we have 35 part-time firefighters at work as well in addition how large is your staff total roughly uh i say probably

65 firefighters wow yeah it’s a big debate administrative staff of seven or eight of us 100 and uh and so definitely worth supporting now um one thing that i do want to mention as well that’s very important is this is after homestead where this this millage is correct uh place so so it’s not as uh it’s not as much as it sounds i guess you could say once your homestead is taking that you’re not going to do it before homestead so and i use the example gym of 175 000 home yeah your first 75 000 is homestead exempt so now you have a hundred thousand dollars that you’re being taxed on yes and that’s going to bring us 150 there you go 150 bucks best best deal in town cheapest insurance policy yeah i’m telling you and uh and super brave folks over there and you have more people coming in which means you have more calls right and and that’s just evidenced in the numbers i mean 7 200 calls we’ve doubled we ran with doubles in the last 10 years we’ve doubled call volume so yeah um and that’s just in the last 15 years 10 years correct and so yes you do have more people coming in which generates more more money for your department but it’s balancing itself because you’re getting more calls out you have more expenses that way how much gas for a fire department exactly fuel costs are up here insurance rates are high you know everything comes into play right right just i would imagine uh what would you call it the oxygen mask and those sorts of things all of that stuff’s probably triple what it was absolutely you know way back then so all those cost increases relate to that and we mentioned this a little bit earlier but i do want to kind of get into it a little bit more and you know fire ratings make a difference as far as how much you’re going to pay in your insurance your homeowner’s insurance and one of the things you’ll see with underfunded departments typically is that you know people are paying it just a ton for homeowners insurance so one thing that these millages help is they keep they keep that standard up you’re able to maintain a high standard of protection just like i mean this is one of the best departments there are period anywhere in the world as far as i’m concerned uh and they’re able to maintain that because of who they are but they’re at a point where you know the the dollar is just not going to stretch anymore and and uh how how well staffed or are some of your facilities typically we only have one person on the truck yeah and that person is able to get the fire truck there it may be 10-15 minutes before someone else shows up to help them yeah so what does that mean well we can’t send one person into a burning building right it’s too dangerous so if we have someone trapped we’re kind of at the mercy of waiting on someone else to get there so we can try and get in and do something yeah now if we have two people on the truck we’ll absolutely we can go ahead and get that started yes and but like i say right now one person you’re you’re hoping your volunteers show up yeah and they’re volunteer i mean they may be working they may be at work they may be on date night with their wife i don’t know but they can’t always be there that’s right that’s right great point there and so what happens is uh you know relative to your fire insurance those rates eventually will raise if you can’t keep that same standard of protection with your fire department so you we definitely don’t want that happening um and you do other things outside of of you know that all the hero stuff you do i can’t imagine look there’s there’s uh there’s a lot of people i respect out there but two two in particular uh fields are firemen and uh policemen and the reason is they run towards everything i run away from quite frankly i mean i you know i got no desire to run into burning building and although people tell me it’s the greatest rush ever and you ought to try just one time

you know that might be might be kind of cool but um but really what you do for a living in and of itself is extremely honorable um and i have a ton of respect for that but the policemen the firemen those are people you always want to support you can always tell a good community because they have good fire departments and they have good police departments and all of those sorts of things and it’s one of the things that makes me so proud of livingston parish now chief how long have you been in in fire protection total because you only look 25 so i started on my dad around the fire station when i was six years old wow so your dad was a fireman okay uh he brought my brother and i up in it my brother went to law enforcement and i stayed with the fire service yes and i basically i got first commission in october 1984. wow yeah and i had a little break in there for a couple of years when i got married but i came back and i’ve been here ever since wow i mean it’s many many years many years yeah chief now for 21 years 21 years fire chief for 21 years so you know what you’re doing pretty much i’d say that how about you mr do guys well kind of funny uh chief’s dad’s actually the one got me into the fire service back in the mid 80s yeah he sounds like a recruiter yeah yeah so uh spent you know spent years uh with the volunteering the same thing kind of you know life happened kind of got away and yeah and i was lucky enough to uh be approached about being on the board of directors and been on there for the last 15 years or so finally became chairman um eight ten years ago and uh the one of the things that i really um am proud of is every board member that’s on district four board at one time or another was a volunteer firefighter yeah so it’s it’s we really take you know the safety of the firefighters you know um that’s priority to us because we used to be them 100 and so you know that’s why we’re so passionate about you know this millage is you know we see the need and you know we want to try to help those guys as much as we can um you know so we’re always going to try to try to do what we can to to move the fire department forward because we were those volunteer firefighters back 20. you know back in our younger day we’ll see yeah yeah yeah that’s right that’s right and and you know there’s there’s something to be said for these fire departments in these smaller parishes like livingston parish which ain’t so small anymore folks it’s it’s uh it’s growing it’s growing at a you know and that’s one of the reasons we’re here today and is the growth the massive growth of this parish overall and and um but we still have that that kind of that small town feel and one of those things that y’all do is you know santa every year and you know that to me is is something that uh you you just don’t find in the in these big cities and it and it’s another thing that y’all do that you don’t necessarily have to just kind of do it to give back right about the children it really is you know it’s we the kids get so excited when they see that fire truck coming through and they know it’s getting close to christmas by that point yeah you know and i actually ran into a gentleman the other day that he was thanking me for doing it he said even though his children are older now they still run outside to see santa claus every year we go by yeah i think i beat my kids out there which is pretty but it is it’s a it’s a total highlight and and it’s one of those things you just don’t get in a whole lot of places and of course we appreciate that and you brought up children and and uh and young people and you also educate in fire district for uh especially young people right we do we go to all the schools throughout the year uh october uh i think it’s the second week of october’s fire prevention week yeah we have to stretch it out across a month because we have so many schools sure but it’s not only in october we’re going throughout the year we go to the schools we talk to the children and something we’re going to be starting next school year at walker high school is we will be conducting firefighting classes at the high school which is a lot of seniors across the parish so that’s great that’s just another way of us trying to recruit yeah and we’re able to go into the high school teach these guys gals and hopefully one day they’ll make a career of it yeah yeah i think it’s a it’s it’s a great thing and and um you know back when we went to school all of us you didn’t really have all these programs like you have now especially walker high wow go wildcats they’re getting they’re getting everything i’d actually wanted to go to school if we’d had all this yes exactly and and uh you know these these trades i i was happy to see rotc get instituted in high schools uh here in livingston parish and and the fire department now is is going to be something you can you can kind of learn the ins and outs of while you’re still in high school i think that’s actually the the program the goal is to um they’ll do they’ll get the same training as any other fireman yeah so when they come out of that class they’ll actually be able to work on the floor of a fire department they could go straight from high school they have the same certifications as what we’re working on and they’ll be able to go get a job as a firefighter that’s a that’s beautiful not just the you know learning part of it it’s the certification part yeah that’s pushing yes and and uh you know you mentioned training and training is something else that you have to fund in a fire department right um and as we discussed earlier it’s it’s more than just putting out fires i mean you’ve got i would imagine kind of like emt similar training to that and right our emts are emergency medical responders they have to have continuing education they have to recertify and that’s in addition to the 196 hours of training firefighter training that’s required annually yeah you know so it’s all that’s at a cost it’s constantly training effectiveness yeah yeah very good and and so those are those are a good example of some of the things that funding is going to go towards but for somebody that would ask you chief um what you know we’re going to pay we’re going to vote for this tax we’re for it um it’s something that’s going to support our our fire departments we’re all for that but where is that money going to go what give me kind of a sympnosis of what that money would be used so this is gonna be the millage is worded as an operations and maintenance yes and our primary goal will be to hire more full-time firefighters to where we have a minimum of two people per truck we will still supplement with our part-time firefighters we’ll still supplement with our volunteer firefighters yes but we’re going to get to a point where we have we’re doubling our manpower sure on every first down engine yes okay so that’s the primary purpose of this millage this time i think yeah and definitely needed and look your biggest cost uh overall in any business whether it’s a fire department or a podcast is labor right and and uh and you’ve got to attract good people and of course you’re competing in a marketplace people forget that um your policemen your firefighters and your teachers all those sorts of things they they may not be uh businesses like you would like a retail business but they’re competing in a marketplace against all kinds of other industries and so they’re you know you have to take care of those people and you have to pay them a reasonable wage and you know and look these people do it a lot of it it’s they’re definitely not millionaires off of it right it’s it’s hard a lot of it doesn’t love it that’s right we love helping our neighbors yes yes and and uh just heroes you know this is the way i look at that so um what we our goal today was to just kind of educate you on this uh upcoming it’ll be april 30th on that ballot uh i don’t know if there’s going to be anything else on the ballot if that may be the name sure only thing just it’s not important just vote uh yes to that that’s don’t worry about the other stuff i don’t i don’t even think there’s anything else on there but um but you definitely want to go out and vote get your voice uh heard and and i want to kind of sum it up and just say i personally hope everyone considers uh what fire district 4 is asking for and that we answered some of the questions you may have during that and chief is there anything you wanted to add if anyone would like they can go to our website and we have our strategic plan on this website which details where we’ve been where we’re wanting to go and the funding that we need for that yeah and they’re more than welcome to call the office anytime we’ll we’ll explain anything we can to them yeah yeah mr dugos anything same thing i mean you know we want to educate people if they have questions we want to answer them um you know we’ve we’ve tried to go to as many hoa meetings as possible people that want us to come there we’re more than glad to come and sit down and explain to them um and somebody just wants to come sit down with the chief i know he’ll sit there in his office and explain it to him all day long so yeah and we just don’t want anybody to not know uh what’s going you know what we’re trying to do if you have a question please ask it yeah and that’s look how how rare is that i mean you see you see a lot of times you know in government especially they’ll kind of try to maybe slide something by you a little bit where you don’t see it coming and and these guys have been so open when uh when i was researching it there was several articles that you’ve already done and and uh places that you spoke at and and explained what this is for and let me tell you when you when you’ve had the same millage since 1975 and and it’s 20 22 now and you’re you’re just coming to ask for a little more uh that tells me that you’re you know you’re only asking for it because you need it and it’s amazing to me and you’ve you’ve done a great job chief of being able to balance all of this all of this time off of that same village and just you know i may need to get you to manage my books over here because you’ve just done a great job and and uh so like they said any questions uh don’t hesitate to reach out you can look on the website and they have a lot of information on there and uh once again april 30th your voice matters go what go support these guys that that support us every day i don’t worry about uh a whole lot in livingston parish because of the professionals we have in all of our or service related fields like our fire departments or police officers or hospitals things like that so thank you very much y’all y’all are true heroes to me uh i ain’t running in that burning house so uh definitely shout out to all all you guys and all those folks at the fire departments for sure i want to thank all of y’all viewers and listeners of local leaders of podcast please continue to like share comment and subscribe and if you want to sponsor be featured reach out to me at jim at until next time i’m jim chapman reminding you love your community support local business and local fire departments and keep leading thank you very much

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