The Huntington city council called a special meeting Thursday night to discuss whether or not the City of Huntington will continue to fund the volunteer fire department.
After many members of the fire department spoke to the council including chief Jerry LaSalle the council put fourth a motion to defund the volunteer fire department and all members of the board agreed it was in the best interest of the City of Huntington at this time.
Fires were left smoldering too long in the Huntington VFD for the city council and the 6 member city council unanimously voted to pull their funding from the department.
This will be the second source of income for the HFVD that has fizzled out this week. The Angelina County Firefighters Association (ACFA) also decided to pull their $800 month stipend from the HVFD earlier this week, marking the total funding loss around $35,000 - $40,000.
President of the ACFA, Bobby Cranford, says the decision to pull their funding started back in 2012 on election night when Chief Jerry LaSalle terminated all the volunteer firefighters and asked them to reapply for their positions.
Cranford said, "We realized there's something seriously wrong with the department and the chiefs' of the county decided that it was time to do something about it."
The Angelina County Firefighters Association is made up of the fire chiefs from all 9 fire departments in Angelina County.
The council started the meeting by letting members of the Huntington VFD, past and present, speak on behalf of the department. All those who spoke, including chief LaSalle said they wanted the opportunity to show the council they can get it together.
LaSalle said, "And I would ask that you'd give us a chance to correct what we have done and go forward."
LaSalle also said that he recognized the oversights and mistakes that have been made and has had a good relationship with the council over the years and would like to keep it such.
Huntington Mayor, Herman Woolbright said that he hopes that after these decisions are made today they can all remain civil and maintain their friendships.
At one point during the meeting, city council member Frank Harris asked LaSalle if he would consider resigning from his position as chief of the Huntington Fire Department and LaSalle said he was not able to make that decision at the time.
Ultimately, the council says there have just been too many problems and not a enough forward progress and LaSalle's request for more time and a chance to make it right is just too late.
Although the city is no longer funding the department, that doesn't mean there is no fire department.
Milstead said the fire department is its own entity, "We have no control over their existence. We wish them the very best. We wish no hard feelings."
As far as if there is a fire, Milstead says they have mutual aid agreements with nearby fire departments like Zavalla and Lufkin.
A Zavalla fireman was in attendance during Thursday's meeting and said that whether or not the council decided to keep funding the HFVD or not, the Zavalla fire department would be there for Huntington residents.
Although these mutual aid agreements continue to protect the City of Huntington in case of an emergency or fire, the lack of a well-funded, professionally functioning fire department should still concern the citizens, Cranford said.
Cranford also went on to say that there are actually 2 fire departments that the Angelina County Firefighters Association funds in the City of Huntington. The fire station off N Main Street in Huntington is no longer receiving funding from the ACFA or the City of Huntington but Cranford said the ACFA is still giving the fire department behind Huntington State Bank $800 month to operate.
The fire within the HVFD started back in November on election night when according to Cranford, chief LaSalle asked all the current members of the HVFD to resubmit their applications to be on the force.
In a previous interview with LaSalle, he said he decided that he needed to clean house and that there were some people with criminal records in the fire department including one registered sex offender that should not be on the force anymore.
After LaSalle "cleaned house", the fire department wrote new bylaws for their department and started re-interviewing candidates to be a part of the fire department.
Cranford and the city council both say the timing of LaSalle's house cleaning was not the best, it being election night and all.
Since January, a member of the HVFD board of directors, who was a convicted felon resigned from his position on the board and the force.
Milstead said in a previous interview that no convicted felons would be allowed on the fire department, period.
The new process LaSalle and the City of Huntington worked out at the first of the year included: applicants who wish to volunteer to be on the fire department applying via chief LaSalle. Then LaSalle would submit those names to Huntington Police Chief Bobby Epperly, who would run background checks. Then those background checks would be given back to LaSalle who was then to call upon the board of directors to interview the applicants whose background checks are clean to be on the force.
Milstead said that several previous members of the HVFD, who do not have criminal records and who have reapplied to be on the force, have not been contacted for an interview by LaSalle or the HVFD board of directors.
KTRE will continue following this story as it unfolds.
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