Delayed repairs, upgrades frustrate La. firefighters

By Mary Sparacello
The Times-Picayune

KENNER, La. — Since Kenner firefighters brought a backlog of repairs needed at the city's six fire stations to the attention of officials three years ago, more than $2 million has been spent on repairs and equipment.

Mickey Giarrusso, president of Kenner Firefighters Local 1427, conceded that work has been done, but said it isn't happening quickly enough.

"There's been progress, but three years is a long time to wait for things to get fixed," he said.

Mayor Ed Muniz disagreed that his administration is moving slowly.

"They're in much better shape than they used to be in," Muniz said recently, adding that his administrators went last week to each fire station to take notes on the progress of the promised repairs. "We're going to bring that to conclusion."

Mike Yenni, Muniz's chief administrative officer, said he recently visited the stations and was impressed.

"From walking through the stations on Friday compared to three years ago, they're much better off than I originally saw," Yenni said. "All the problems now are minor problems."

Some firefighters have been at odds with the city recently over firefighter pay, with the Muniz administration commissioning a salary study that found Kenner firefighters are paid on par with those in other areas. The need for fire station repairs is one of the issues that has arisen in the course of the pay debate.

For example, Giarrusso said that though Kenner paid for repairing the roof at the Vintage Drive fire station, it still leaks.

The leak, according to Kenny Melvin, public works director, is not because of the roof but because of a wall and is part of $240,000 in repairs planned at that station and another.

Giarrusso added that a newly installed generator at that station leaks. "You could sit out there every day and smell natural gas," he said.

Yenni said the contractor who installed the natural-gas generator has been called to address the gas leak.

Also, Giarrusso said 12 mobile laptops, ordered for $71,000 in 2007, have been sitting in boxes at Fire Department headquarters instead of on each fire truck.

Yenni responded that some have been installed by the city's busy information technology department and others are in the process of being installed.

The requested repairs made news almost immediately after Muniz took office in July 2006.

The talk that August was of a proposed $5.6 million fire administrative complex. Giarrusso arose at a City Council meeting to say that firefighters were in favor of the new building but wanted problems at existing stations fixed — ranging from mold to leaky roofs and doors that didn't close to nonworking computers.

Efforts to build the fire complex failed and $200,000 of the money was redirected for Fire Department repairs. Muniz directed an engineering company to list all the work needed at the stations.

Council members Joe Stagni and Maria DeFrancesch at the time said they went to the stations and took photos of the needed repairs. "They were having numerous problems," Stagni said.

DeFrancesch went back to most of the stations a couple weeks ago with Fire Chief John Hellmers and said much work has been done.

"From what I saw originally there has been substantial progress," she said.

Copyright 2009 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company

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