La Vergne to assume control of its own fire department - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

La Vergne to assume control of its own fire department

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They put their lives on the line every day, but since 1965, firefighters in La Vergne have not been city employees. Soon, that will change.

La Vergne is one of two municipalities in the state that still uses a private company to run its fire department - the other is Heiskell, TN, just outside Knoxville.

But city officials signed an agreement Wednesday to purchase the contract from the private company La Vergne Fire Department, Inc., for $4 million, which includes all the fire trucks, equipment and all three fire halls.

"This is a very historical day for the city of LaVergne," said Mayor Senna Mosley said. "This means we can actually operate the fire department at a much lesser cost."

The city's contract with the private company would not have ended until 2020 and would have increased to nearly $5 million.

"It is going to cost us a little up front, but over the next several of years, we're talking about millions that's it's going to save our taxpayers," Mosley said.

And remember the huge controversial tax increase in La Vergne a few years ago? Well, the fire contract would have taken up 89 percent of that tax hike.

The city currently pays for upkeep of equipment, uniforms, cell phones and utilities at the fire halls, among other things.

City officials say buying out the contract is a no-brainer.

"We still have a three-minute response time. The only difference our citizens will notice is they are going to get more bang for their buck with their tax dollars," Mosley said.

The private company employs 25 firefighters, who will be offered jobs to with the city. The mayor said the city will hire 13 more firefighters over the next six months to a year.

"I think it's a great idea. It never should have been contracted out in my opinion," said La Vergne homeowner Regina Parker.

Rick McCormick, who worked his way up the ranks over his 27-year career in La Vergne, will be taking over as the new chief and said he knows how important it is to have more hands on deck.

"Manpower is the heart of the fire service. You have to have the manpower to make things work properly," McCormick said.

The city recently upgraded its 2-inch water lines. That, along with the new city-run fire department, leads city officials to expect the ISO rating of 5 to be lowered. If that happens, it could mean lower insurance rates for businesses and homeowners.

"It would be a great relief. In these economic times, every little bit helps," Parker said.

City leaders said the fire department will now be able to apply for grants for additional firefighters, buy equipment and possibly build a new fire hall.

The buyout will be paid in two $2 million dollar payments - one in January 2014, and the other in January 2015.

The agreement becomes official next month.

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