Supervisors heat up fire protection plansPublished 12:12am Thursday, July 26, 2012
NATCHEZ — The Adams County Board of Supervisors told Volunteer Fire Coordinator Stan Owens to start developing a county fire protection plan Wednesday after being told the board pays six times what any other counties pay for fire coverage.
The supervisors met Wednesday to discuss county fire protection in light of the fact that the City of Natchez has requested an additional $50,000 in fire funding.
The county entered into a fire protection contract with the city in 1996 for $400,000 that would be adjusted annually. County Administrator Joe Murray said the money appropriated for the current fiscal year was $566,733.
State Fire Coordinator Larry Barr said based on the current rate the county is paying the city, the county is paying approximately $3,000 a call.
“Even some of the highest rates I have seen cities charge boards of supervisors, the highest was $500 a call,” Barr said. “Y’all are paying six times that.”
Owens said the original agreement between the city and the county included the hiring of new firemen to maintain the area’s fire rating, and the base contract included the cost of those hires.
Supervisor Mike Lazarus said that for $600,000, the county could staff its own fire stations. When he asked the state fire coordinator if the current arrangement was helping the fire rating in the county, Barr responded, “Not at all.”
Deputy State Fire Coordinator Brad Smith said at the current rate the county is paying, it could put two firemen in the county firehouses during business hours on a $50,000 salary, pay volunteers and still have money left over.
Doing that would lower the fire rating in the areas that were within five road miles of the station, saving homeowners approximately $1,000 a year in insurance costs, Barr said.
Even for the areas that aren’t affected by insurance changes, they will be affected by a faster response time, Barr said.
“It won’t help their insurance, but it may make a difference whether they live or die,” Smith said.
And that has been a problem that has bothered him before, Lazarus said.
“When they have a house trailer fire, by the time they leave one of those fire houses in the city and get 20 or 30 miles out into Kingston, most of the time the house is burned,” Lazarus said.
Murray agreed, saying, “You may be 6 miles out of that 5 road-mile (coverage area), but at least you’re not 16 miles.”
The county has five volunteer fire departments, on Kingston Road, Foster Mound Road, Liberty Road, on U.S. 61 near Lake Montrose and at the Natchez-Adams County Airport.
Creating a county fire protection program wouldn’t be something that can be accomplished overnight, Smith said.
In addition to manning the stations, the firehouses would still need an average of eight volunteers.
Owens said in the past the county has had trouble recruiting volunteer fire fighters because the stations have not been community-oriented.
If the county was to phase in a fire protection program, Barr said he would recommend staffing the Kingston and Foster Mound fire stations first, because they are centrally located in their communities.
“If you did that, once these areas see their ratings lowered, the rest of the people in this county are going to start showing an interest and support to build those (other) departments up,” Smith said.
The county is also eligible for approximately half a million dollars in fire department grants, Barr said.
The state fire coordinator said the county would not want to completely pull out of the agreement with the city, and Owens said some parts of the county — for example, the port — would not be adequately covered by the county fire stations.
Owens said the county would also have to address the issue of water supply in some parts of the county, where the lines laid by the various water associations aren’t big enough to carry the capacity necessary for firefighting.
Adams County Road Superintendent Robbie Dollar said when he worked for International Paper, the company had a volunteer emergency response team that would be paid four hours overtime each month to attend training classes and then respond to emergencies.
Something similar could possibly be arranged with some of the road department’s employees, he said.
Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said airport employees will respond with the airport’s fire truck if there is a fire on Airport Road.
The supervisors emphasized that they are not planning to drop the city’s fire protection this year, and they said they wanted to keep the lines of communication open.
Supervisor Angela Hutchins characterized the decision as the board exploring their options.
“We are working so we can have a plan in place we are working for, but it doesn’t mean we are going to approve a plan,” Grennell said.