Longtime Louisiana Fire Marshal Removed by Governor

Associated Press

Longtime Louisiana Fire Marshal V.J. Bella was removed from his post Monday by Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Bella, 77, who served in the Legislature for 20 years before his appointment a decade ago as the state's top fire prevention and investigation official, said he was informed of his removal Monday by Col. Henry Whitehorn, head of state police.

``I was very suprised by it,'' said Bella.

Bella said he was given no reason for his removal and was given a couple of days to pack up his office. The fire marshal serves at the governor's pleasure, and Bella said he met with Blanco at the governor's mansion in May and was told he ``was OK.''

``I know politics well enough to know that things can change,'' Bella said in a telephone interview. ``The other thing that bothers is that they sent Col. Whitehorn to send the message to me.''

Bella said he had no indication that the governor was prepared to change fire marshals.

The governor's office said there would be no immediate comment on Bella's ouster. Bella said he did not know if a replacement had been selected.

Bella said he felt like he had a good relationship with Blanco going back to the days in the Legislature when both were members of the Acadiana House delegation. He also said he supported Blanco in the governor's race last year.

The fire marshal's office has 183 employees spread across the state and routinely conducts fire inspections and arson investigations.

``I hope the fire marshal's office continues to grow and build,'' Bella said.