Bayou Sorrel fire chief removed from post by Parish Administration

TOMMY COMEAUX tcomeaaux@gmail.com
Bayou Sorrel Fire Department station

TOMMY COMEAUX

tommycomeaux@postsouth.com

Iberville Parish administration removed the Bayou Sorrel fire chief because officials believe he falsified records submitted to an agency charged with setting fire insurance rates.

The parish administration released Travis Dupree for what they and Director of Fire and Emergency Services John Marque Jr. believe was filing a false questionnaire to the state’s Property Insurance Association of Louisiana (PIAL).

Parish President Ourso first released the information at the Iberville Parish Council meeting last Tuesday.

“We had an incident where we removed the fire chief,” he told council members. “The fire chief did some actions that were not good for the parish and the residents of the Bayou Sorrel community.”

The allegedly falsified report could increase the fire insurance rating in the Bayou Sorrel area, which now has a rating of 6 on a scale of 1 to 10.

“People’s property fire insurance rating depends on the responses provided to PIAL in that questionnaire,” Ourso said.

Marque reported to Ourso what he believed to be irregularities in a copy of the questionnaire Dupree turned in to PIAL.

“Mitch, I don’t feel good about this questionnaire,” Ourso said Marque told him. “Something is going wrong down there.” The fire district covers a large area in south Iberville Parish in and around Bayou Sorrel.

After investigating the matter and talking to the now former fire chief, Ourso said Marque said he believed the “report had been pencil-whipped.”

Ourso, in an interview Friday, said he did not want to accuse anyone of wrongdoing without proof so he hired an investigator,

“He came back to me and said he believed, in fact, that the questionnaire had been falsified,” Ourso said. “Everybody deserves due process, so that’s why we hired an investigator.”

After receiving the investigator’s report, Ourso said he called PIAL to see if the Bayou Sorrel Fire Department could be given additional time to correct the errant report.

“I have reason to believe that our Bayou Sorrel Fire Department, mainly the fire chief, falsified their questionnaire,” he said. While the official he spoke to said he was sorry to hear the report may have been improperly completed, the agency would continue its effort to determine the area’s fire insurance rating at the scheduled time.

“I’m sorry but we have to do our job,” state PIAL Divisional Manager Blaine Rabe’ told Ourso.

“I knew that questionnaire would make it almost impossible for the Bayou Sorrel area to keep its 6 rating and that really bothered me,” Ourso said. “It’s the homeowners who will suffer if the rating gets any higher.”

The next step, the parish president said, was to send a letter to state Fire Marshal Butch Browning’s office to ask for a full investigation into the situation, along with assistance from the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office.

When confronted with the evidence from the investigation, Ourso said, Dupree told the sheriff’s and State Fire Marshal’s investigators “I lost the records that backed up my answers on the questionnaire.”

When informed of this, the parish president then asked his chief administrative officer, Edward “Lucky” Songy, to review the findings from the investigation.

“He told me that when that man signed off on that affidavit and mailed it off, he committed a crime,” Ourso said Songy told him. “…This is criminal.”

On the advice of a local justice of the peace, Dupree was charged with filing and maintaining false documentation. “At that time, the Iberville Parish Administration filed a charge against the former chief.”

Ourso said, he then gave the dismissed chief an alternative to being arrested.

“So as to not cause any more harm to his family or the community any further pain – we didn’t really want to handcuff him and put him in jail – so we told him that instead, he could sign a letter apologizing for his actions.”

The letter was mailed to all the residents of the area served by the Bayou Sorrel Fire Department and to each one of the members of the Parish Council.

Appointed as the fire chief for the department is Donald Palermo, Marque said.

“I would like to thank Donald Palermo and the rest of the firefighters in that department for their efforts in this situation and doing the best they can under the circumstances,” Ourso said.

“The chief and the firefighters there have really done a great job to do everything they can to get things back on track,” Marque said.

“For the most part, the volunteer firefighters across the parish do a great job,” Ourso said.