Official: Aging equipment hurts county's fire rating

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Lamar County Fire Coordinator George Stevens wants another fire truck to replace the aging equipment that is starting to mount at the 10 stations in the county. He hopes he can get some help from the state.

In Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, he received approval for Board President Joe Bounds to sign and submit an application for Round 12 of the Rural Fire Truck Acquisition Assistance Program. The fire engine would go to Central Lamar Volunteer Fire Department.

The catch: The Legislature has to authorize it.

“And if Round 12 is funded, we will probably buy an additional truck, probably for Central Lamar,” Stevens said. “They have two front-line pumpers that are more than 20 years old.”

Stevens said state officials must support rural fire departments or equipment will continue to deteriorate and insurance coverage will drop.

“You can’t stop (fighting fires),” he said. “The state has made a commitment to fire stations. Actually, the federal government has too. Both of them are not continuing their commitment, even at the federal level. They have stayed at the same level for years and years. While we are trying to recover funds, they should be actually increasing funds.”

Stevens said some areas around Lamar County are seeing new fire hydrants sprout up to fill in for tankers.

“In some places, we’re trying to replace the tankers with hydrants because that’s a more economical thing to do and it’s efficient with a water main,” he said. “Installing fire hydrants along places like Purvis-Oloh Road is going to help. Not having to bring a tanker there saves time and money. Manpower is also a critical issue, trying to keep enough volunteers to handle all the calls we have.”

However, Lamar County got close to the problem in Marion County when a tanker from Hickory Ridge VFD responded to a structure fire on Dry Branch Road. While fighting the fire, Tri-Community VFD first responder Shane Saucier suffered smoke inhalation when the seals on his 17-year-old mask failed. He was overcome from the hot fire.

Stevens said the mask failure could have been deadly.

“I’ve been telling people that we are going to reach our critical point because we are having increasing costs, increasing demand and the  funding has remained the same,” he said. “However, the incident in Marion County has shown that we have reached that point. A potentially fatal incident occurred. Luckily, there was no significant injury. The house wasn’t as hot as when he had his mask on with a 17-year-old respirator. Had it been a hot house, it could have caused a fatality.”

The costs of materials and trucks has risen dramatically recently, Stevens said.

“When we bought 10 (trucks) in 1995, we paid $113,000 each,” he said. “In 2009, we paid $176,000, but we had a $500,000 grant for 10 trucks because of Hurricane Katrina. We bought 10 and I think they were about $1.1 million because I think we got a state grant to help with them.

“This time, if we just bought 10 trucks, they would be $250,000 apiece and that’s just one new truck for each department,” he said. “Some stations like Central Lamar have three trucks and they also have tankers. We have about 50 large trucks, counting tankers and pumpers. Tankers don’t cost as much as the regular pumper fire trucks because we don’t have the amount of equipment on the tankers.”

House Bill No. 1223 calls for a $3 million appropriation from the General Fund into the Rural Fire Truck Fund for the purpose of providing funds for an additional round of fire 3 trucks for counties and municipalities under the Rural Fire Truck Acquisition Assistance Program for the fiscal year 2019. That would begin July 1.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the bill is active in the House Appropriations Committee. Its main author is Rep. Larry Byrd of Petal.

 

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