Funding battle changes emergency response near Baker

POSTED: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 6:23pm

UPDATED: Friday, December 30, 2011 - 6:48pm

People living on the outskirts of Baker will see some big changes going into the New Year. The Baker Fire Department will stop answering emergency calls for those areas come Sunday.

Both the Zachary and Baker fire departments had been handling emergencies in the northwestern part of East Baton Rouge Parish for years. However, because of funding disagreements, the full responsibility of that unincorporated area now falls on the Zachary Fire Department.

Since 2008, the two fire departments have split more than $300,000 a year to take care of emergencies in those outlying areas. Zachary received 65% because they have a bigger area to cover. That left Baker with 35% of those funds.

In November, Baker firefighters say Mayor David Amrhein decided his city deserved 81% of those funds. That’s because Zachary firefighters respond to about 88% of those emergency calls.

When officials from Baker said they couldn’t work with the 19% left over, the East Baton Rouge Parish Fire Board gave all of the money, and the emergency calls, to Zachary.

That means residents living in the unincorporated areas will have to rely entirely on Zachary firefighters if there’s an emergency, even if they live right next to the Baker Fire Station.

Sheronica Cable is one of those people who will be affected by the EBR Parish Fire Board’s decision. She lives in an apartment complex less than two miles from the Baker Fire Station, but if disaster strikes, she won’t have their help.

“I think it’s pretty selfish for them to want a fire department to come from ten minutes away when there’s one right around the corner,” she says.

The Zachary Fire Department is about 5.4 miles from her home. Those firefighters are the ones she’ll have to count on starting Sunday.

“If something happens and one of my kids is trapped up there, then it’s going to take Zachary ten minutes to get here,” she says. “What am I supposed to do in those ten minutes?”

Baker Fire Chief Danny Edwards says this decision puts lives in danger.

“If a person has a cardiac arrest, we have to start some sort of basic life support within five to six minutes,” he explains. “There’s no way they can respond from downtown Zachary to those areas in the time frame allowed.”

He says the battle over funds has put politics in front of people.

“It’s not about those numbers to me,” he says. “They say it’s about numbers. It’s not about numbers. It’s about lives and property.”

For Cable, a mother of four, that’s just unacceptable.

“That don’t make sense to me,” she says. “Our lives are more important. Everybody lives are more important than a money issue. Money should not be an issue when it comes to people and their children.”

The Zachary Fire Department will respond to a number of new areas, including the Jetson Center for Youth, the Baker Trails Apartments on Baker Boulevard, and a trailer park near the VFW in the center of town. They’ll also respond to emergency calls south of Irene Road and Plank Road to the east of the city.

Chief Edwards says he has contacted the City of Zachary, and the fire board, twice since the November decision to try and work out a way to keep the City of Baker on board, but he says, they won’t have it.

Mayor Amrhein had no comment on the issue.

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