Lamar supervisors create new firefighter positions

By HASKEL BURNS,

Last week’s meeting of the Lamar County Board of Supervisors provided more boosts to fire protection in the county, with supervisors voting to create four new firefighter positions and to approve the submission of a grant that would allow a new Fire and Life Safety Educator position.

A Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant recently received by the county allowed board members to approve the hiring of two part-time firefighters for the Sumrall Fire Grading District, along with another two part-time firefighters at the Hickory Grove Fire Grading District. All four positions were approved for 27-hour work weeks.

The SAFER grant, which comes courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is designed to help fire agencies increase or maintain the number of trained firefighters in their communities. The grant also helps enhance fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association.

“The board has taken action to create the positions, because we didn’t have them to start with,” Lamar County Administrator Jody Waits said. “So it’s additional manpower in the Hickory Grove and Sumrall areas that would provide staffing for them. Staffing has been a big problem, so that’s going to be a big help to those areas.” 

The submittal of a 2018 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant application will hopefully provide for the new Fire and Life Safety Educator, who would work to provide fire education to students and elderly individuals in the area. If funded, the grant will provide $116,380 over the course of a two-year period for wages and benefits, with the county providing a 5 percent match of $5,819.

“Our efforts in the past with schools and the elderly have been successful with smoke detectors, which will be another element we’ll look at,” Lamar County Fire Coordinator George Stevens said. “We’ve documented several instances where our programs have saved lives in Lamar County; it’s been documented by the state and FEMA.”

Stevens said if the new position is successful in accomplishing the department’s goals, he would like to attempt to get an extension on the grant after the initial two-year period has ended.

“Northeast had a five-year grant to hire firefighters, and at the end of the five years they didn’t really have the money to continue the position,” he said. “So we were able to get a two-year extension grant.

“It could have an impact for decades to come, especially working in schools. One thing that amazes me, I see million-dollar homes that don’t have smoke detectors. For some reason, we didn’t do a good job 20, 30 years ago on public fire safety education, and it’s costing us now.”