I-Team: Fire Zone

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It is no secret finding a parking spot in downtown Baton Rouge can be a pain, especially for people like Matthew Folse, who have to do it every day.

"The whole garage is full sometimes. Sometimes you have to go park by the levee. Last week I had to park way down by North Street. It's ridiculous," Matthew Folse said.

Not every parking spot is up for grabs. There are many painted red in the city to designate a "fire zone".

St. George Fire Prevention Chief Darian Williams helps designate some of the fire zones in East Baton Rouge Parish.

"For our engine companies, it's very much a big deal," Williams said.

Eldon Ledoux, a spokesman for the St. George Fire District, says because fires spread fast, firefighters depend on fire lanes to be open when they arrive.

"I would hope the public honors fire zones in the same manner they do handicapped parking spaces. There's a legitimate reason for them," Ledoux said.

But that is not always the case.

Over the past 60 days, the 9 News I-Team randomly staked out parts of downtown Baton Rouge.

We found numerous cars parked in fire lanes, including first responders who did not appear to be working emergencies.

On one of our visits to St. Louis Street, the I-Team spotted an East Baton Rouge Sheriff's deputy unit and a Baton Rouge City Constable cruiser, both parked in fire zones.

"I feel like it's messed up but at the same time you can't say anything about it. But same time they have the power," Folse said.

On another day, the I-Team found a Baton Rouge Police car parked in a court house fire lane, and constable units in front of city court in a fire lane clearly marked "no parking".

The I-Team also found a sheriff's SUV parked in a fire zone with a city Department of Public Works truck parked right behind it, also in the red zone.

The I-Team even saw a Baton Rouge Fire car parked in a fire lane near a restaurant on Third Street.

Some civilians who noticed were speechless.

"It's unfair. What's happening is unfair," Thomas Mayhall said.

"They do it. We can't," Folse said.

So why do some who wear the badge sometimes illegally park in fire zones? The I-Team went to them for answers.

"Are you a deputy?" asked reporter Cheryl Mercedes. "Yeah," Deputy Becky Bellue responded. "May I ask why you're parked in a fire zone," Mercedes asked. "Uh, no. This is just where we've been parking," Bellue explained.

Deputy Bellue told Mercedes a supervisor with the sheriff's office told her she could park here.

The sheriff's department says Deputy Bellue was disciplined, and that since presented with our findings, they have instituted a new policy.  Any deputy caught parking in a fire zone during a non-emergency will now be suspended for a full day without pay.

"You can't enforce the law and break it at the same time," City Constable Reggie Brown said.

Brown was livid after hearing the I-Team had found several of his deputies parked in the red zone.

He said his deputies have a parking lot near city court and even have reserved parking along the street.

"It bothers me because there is just no real justification," Brown said.

After being contacted by the I-Team, Brown did some checking.

"When you called me yesterday, I came and I observed one and I came immediately ordered them to move it and told them I would give it to them later," Brown said.

Brown said he is not yet sure what the consequence will be. But he plans to make sure his deputies are disciplined for breaking the law.

"That is a blatant violation in my eyesight and we're not going to tolerate that. The zones are there, and we have to abide by them just like any other citizens," Brown said.

As tempting as it might be to park in a fire zone, firefighters warn if you do and they need to get there, they will move your vehicle out of the way.

"They'll take whatever steps necessary to perform their mission which is saving lives and property without regard to what may be in their way," Ledoux said.

While the sheriff's office told the I-Team they have implemented a new policy, they would not consent to an on-camera interview, nor would Baton Rouge City Police or the fire department.

Ledoux adds, firefighters park their fire trucks in red zones when they go to the grocery store or restaurants. However, he says, because they are on call they must have close access to their equipment in case they are called to respond to an emergency.

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