|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company
County decides to leave fire marshal post vacant for now
BY VALERIE REDDELL
LIVINGSTON — Polk County Commissioners voted Tuesday to leave the position of County Fire Marshal vacant, allowing County Environmental Officer Jay Barbee to focus on environmental violations. Barbee's appointment was not renewed by the court when it was set to expire on Feb. 26. He was on medical leave until June 10. During discussion on appointing a county fire marshal, Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet said he has spoken with several fire chiefs that serve the county and they believe it is in the best interest of the county to have one. "Even though we have someone local with the State Fire Marshal's Office, you never know when he will be sent to investigate a fire in West or Houston," Overstreet said. "When dealing with insurance companies, we want to be sure that cases get closed in a timely manner." In the absence of a County Fire Marshal, arson investigations will be handled by the State Fire Marshal's Office. Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis, who presided over Tuesday's meeting in County Judge John Thompson's absence, said he spoke with Mark Lockerman, director of the State Fire Marshal's Office. "More counties don't have a fire marshal than do. That's what their office does — assist the counties that don't. We have a former deputy, Stan Galloway, that lives in Polk County that would be doing that if we don't appoint one. It's no cost to us. It duplicates the same service. That would free up Mr. Barbee to focus on environmental issues. We could try it that way and see how it works." "I wouldn't mind making use of Mr. Galloway," Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent said. "I guess we could do it in such a way that I would work the fires if there was a fatality or an injury," Barbee said. "If you are not appointed fire marshal, you can't do arson investigation," Overstreet said. Overstreet also asked who would carry Barbee's commission for environmental protection issues if the county does not have a fire marshal's office. Barbee answered that his commission was originally carried with the District Attorney's office, then it was moved to the sheriff's office. The fire marshal's office was created when Billy Ray Nelson was sheriff, because he did not want to carry a commission for anyone he did not supervise. "That's how we got where we are," Barbee said. "I get a lot more complaints about trash than about fires," Purvis said. "I would just as soon someone work the environmental." "Does the fire marshal duties take up quite a bit of your time?" "Yes," Barbee answered. "I don't know if you're going to get that from Stan. He works for the state. He will be available to you when he's not on other cases. If you need one you may have to wait." Commissioners also asked what duties could be handled by sheriff's deputies, which Chief Deputy Byron Lyons confirmed that deputies would secure any fire scene until the state fire marshal's office arrived, but do not perform arson investigations. Willis made a motion not to appoint a fire marshal. "Let's try it awhile and see," Willis said. The motion passed 3-1, with Overstreet voting against. According to the SFMO website Galloway and one other fire investigator, Paul Steelman, cover District 2 which includes 17 counties: Angelina, Cass, Gregg, Harrison, Houston, Jasper, Marion, Nacogdoches, Newton, Panola, Polk, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler. Their unit also includes an inspector, a licensing investigator and a canine handler. The court quickly moved on to nominating representatives for the Deep East Texas Council of Governments Board of Directors for the 2013-2014 term. Purvis made a motion that Thompson and Overstreet continue to represent Polk County. The motion passed unanimously. Willis then announced the final plat for the Crystal Point Subdivision in Pct. 1 had been filed and the developer had submitted all required documentation. The motion passed unanimously.