It has been an exciting transition for me and St. Tammany Fire Protection District No.1 over the past several months. We have hit the ground running and will continue to increase momentum into the New Year! With the holiday season fast approaching, we often reflect on the previous year in preparing for the future.
One of my first priorities as Fire Chief was to demonstrate the capabilities of your fire department for you, the public, to see. Most people are busy living their lives, and while they know the fire department is only a phone call away, I feel that we need to do a better job of showing our citizens just how proactive their fire department is. As part of the St. Tammany Fire Protection District No.1 Public Campaign, in which FD1 personnel perform live training demonstrations for the public, we highlighted a different aspect of department operations each month. Included to date were a Rapid Diver scenario, a car fire suppression demonstration, a hazardous materials incident scenario, a vehicle extrication, a high angle rope rescue, a public education event, and a flammable liquids fire in which firefighting foam was utilized. The general public, elected officials and media have been, and will continue to be, invited to these demonstrations.
During this time the district also hosted the first citizens’ academy aptly named “All Hazards 1001”. Participants in All Hazards 1001 were introduced to the various functions of the department from Administration to Operations by various members of the department. The citizens’ academy concluded with live scenarios in which members of the department accompanied All Hazards 1001 participants through various evolutions to gain a further appreciation for the challenges faced by firefighters in the performance of their duties.
Due to the increased number of tall buildings being constructed within the fire district and to meet the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana (PIAL) requirements to keep your insurance premiums from going up, two new ladder trucks-a 100’ Platform and a 75’ Quint were recently purchased. The district also replaced the 20 year old Hazardous Materials Support Unit with a new Special Operations Unit.
In the short time I have been Fire Chief, the district has welcomed 10 new firefighters to our family to fill vacancies. Additionally, Robert Worchel was promoted to Chief of Administration, Deputy Chief Dave Kuhn is now overseeing maintenance, training and operations, John Dillon has been hired as a maintenance coordinator and Mark Ladegaillerie, a Master Mechanic, joined the department. Mike Thiel is currently filling the Information Technology Officer position while we develop a new class plan to include Information Technology, Accreditation, Geographic Information Systems and Emergency Management responsibilities.
The department’s Chaplain along with members of the Communications and Suppression Divisions participated in Critical Incident Stress Management training to assist in providing peer stress management following critical incidents to begin the healing process for our responders who encounter extreme or repeated tragedies throughout the course of their duties.
Our Communications Division is currently undergoing upgrades to the radio system. Shontell Williams and Bridget Battistella have joined the division within the last 8 months with one additional opening to be filled in the near future. Communications also participated in the Citizens Academy and demonstrated their capabilities to the group. All Communications Officers are currently recertifying in Emergency Medical Dispatch. David Jenkins and Jake Boudreaux have taken Communications Training Officer through the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO). Randy Ward is going to the APCO Communications Center Supervisor course in the coming weeks.
Fire Prevention has been performing various public education events during Fire Prevention Month (October). In October alone, the Fire Prevention Officers and Suppression personnel have conducted 33 public education events over 146 hours and reached 3,348 children and 660 adults. Twelve smoke alarms were also installed in homes during this time. Three personnel have tested to fill a vacant position in Fire Prevention.
Our Training Academy Programs have also been evaluated and updated. The district is expanding the Medical Training Program including: conducting the first Active Shooter Response Operations and Advanced Trauma Care course for area fire departments in coordination with local law enforcement, and EMS Transition Courses to meet new Louisiana Bureau of EMS requirements. Officer Training has also been a major focus and quarterly Officer Training courses are being provided through the National Fire Academy including: Exercising Leadership to Facilitate Adaptive Change, Leading Diverse Communities Beyond Conflict, and Leadership Through Difficult Conversations. Our Employee Assistance Provider taught all employees a class on Employee Empowerment. Technical rescue courses with outside agencies are being provided to train personnel and instructors to conduct ongoing internal training in the future. Hands on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) training and flashover training from LSU’s Fire and Emergency Training Institute have been provided as well. The Training Academy has also initiated internal PPE testing to ensure the safety of structural firefighting gear.
On October 14 the district participated in seven Night Out Against Crime events with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Slidell Police Department. Communications Officer Shontell Williams also spearheaded a breast cancer awareness campaign by raising money for the breast cancer walk selling t-shirts. The “From Fires to Tutus” campaign exceeded the goal of $1,200.00 and is currently at $1,362.00!
St. Tammany Fire Protection District No.1 is scheduled for a site visit by a four member peer assessment team from the Center for Public Safety Excellence during the first week of December as the department moves towards the goal of international accreditation from the Center for Fire Accreditation International, I will keep you updated as we move forward with this major undertaking.
The district is currently staffing an apparatus at our Training Academy on Camp Villere to provide coverage for the Airport Road area. The district has closed on a piece of property on the corner of Airport Road and Meadows Boulevard and will begin construction of Station 18 to provide permanent coverage to this area in 2015.
Finally, we have been working to renew the $39.00 parcel fee due to expire next year. This fee has helped the department diversify our revenue stream while allowing us to make capital and other operational improvements. The Parish Council voted to allow the district to put this renewal on the ballot for public vote and I will be asking for your support of this initiative in the coming months.
Whew! As you can see, the men and women of St. Tammany Fire Protection District No.1 are working hard every day to serve you and provide the highest quality all hazards response model possible. Our goal is to put the needs of the community first! Have a safe and happy holiday season. Know that your fire department is here for you when you need us!