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Fire chief choice draws fire in DeSoto - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Fire chief choice draws fire in DeSoto

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DESOTO PARISH, La. (KTBS) -

Talk about putting out fires. A new chief is fighting criticism that he's not qualified -- or at least not as qualified as others who were passed over -- in the largest firefighting district in DeSoto Parish.

Was Fred Lowery surprised to get the job?

"Very," he says with a short laugh. "Very surprised."

So were others, including the author of an anonymous letter to the fire district board, questioning Lowery's qualifications.

Lowery was serving as interim chief after David Manning retired earlier this year. Lowery was listed as a firefighter/operator/EMT. He has a GED. Because of that education level, he needed five years of "progressively responsible experience." Lowery informed the separate civil service board he had that by filling in for the captain.

"I've been the senior man for 8 (years)," Lowery says. "So anytime the captain is gone, the senior person steps in."

But, argues district board commissioner Bill Cunningham, "That's not a set position. That's seniority that happened."

Cunningham says he did not even consider voting for Lowery over captains within the district.

Lowery got just two votes. But that was all he needed from the five member board, since another member has been absent due to bad health, and the chairwoman only votes to break ties. That left only Cunningham.

"They just out-voted me," Cunningham shrugs.

He says captains he preferred did not get votes because of a perception that they're not liked by firefighters.

"That's immaterial to me," Cunningham says. "You don't have to like somebody. It's not a popularity contest."

"But last week the civil service board upheld its decision to qualify Lowery's experience. Which brings up more controversy; Lowery also served on that three-person civil service board but says he took no action on the chief selection process.

As for the complaints, Chief Lowery says, "I think it's just somebody's upset because they didn't get the position. It's just ... It's petty. But we're trying to work through it and be better."

Lowery says he's working toward an associates degree in emergency management technologies. He plans to continue toward a bachelor's degree.

Meantime, Cunningham says the board may have to do something it didn't do before -- hire an administrative assistant to help Lowery fulfill his duties as chief.

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