Firefighters stiffed out of pay after working 'fire watches'
BATON ROUGE- Dozens of firefighters are waiting to get paid about $100,000 after performing work at residential complexes that had problems with their fire alarms or sprinkler systems. Those complexes were required to be under a fire watch, which necessitated a trained professional to watch the buildings.
Sources within the Baton Rouge Fire Department tell WBRZ, moving forward it will be tough to find men and women to work the fire watches because they are afraid they won't get paid. The city makes firefighters work the watches as an extra duty detail instead of paying them their hourly pay for it.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit found two different properties in East Baton Rouge Parish owe the Baton Rouge firefighters who worked those details $50,000 and $40,000 respectively.
Artisan Hill off of Jefferson Highway is one of the complexes. It owes $50,000 to the firefighters that performed the details. According to emails obtained by WBRZ, in 2010, Artisan Hill was developed as a condominium complex. It ran into financial trouble and was foreclosed on by American Gateway Bank. MACB, LLC affiliated with the Celtic Group, contracted to purchase the property and the units were rezoned to townhomes. In mid-2017, owners were advised that the fire suppression system was not active and it must be completed in order to meet the code. The building was placed under a fire watch.
That email obtained by WBRZ shows the owners are now challenging the cost. "We are simply asking for some relief, if possible, from the over 50,000 cost for the fire watch over the several week periods it took to finish and activate the sprinkler system, which we understand may not have been required in the first place."
That means the firefighters who worked those extra duty details haven't been paid a dime for their work.
Artisan Hill isn't the only complex. The WBRZ Investigative Unit also found the Palisades not far from the Airport also owes Baton Rouge firefighters approximately $40,000. Just like Artisan Hill, the Palisades doesn't think it should have to pay for the work that was done by first responders.
"I believe the site manager has already explained that the property is a cash-poor site. Unfortunately, the site has a low occupancy and high delinquency. We do not have the funds to pay a $40,000 invoice," an email from the regional property manager said.
"Somehow at the end of the line, the firefighters deserve to be compensated for the work they did," Metro Councilman Matt Watson said.
Watson is familiar with the Artisan Hill issue and said problems cropped up because when the building went up sprinklers were required. But, when it was rezoned to townhomes they were not.
Watson agrees no one should work for free, especially those putting their lives on the line for the public daily. He's now looking at making changes to the city's code.
"I need to find out at what level it needs to be changed," Watson said. "If it needs to be changed at the local level so we don't have disagreements like this and there's clear not disputing laws, then we need to clear that up for everybody's sake."
The Baton Rouge Fire Department declined to do an on-camera interview due to pending litigation. BRFD referred all questions to the Fire Union. The Fire Union also declined to do an interview due to pending litigation and said attorneys are working on a settlement to get the firefighters paid.
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