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Firefighters’ cool heads provide example

With no power at the house after Hurricane Isaac nipped our area, the Cooper household temporarily went back in time.

Candlelight and flashlights powered the normal, nightly routines.

One of our dogs, Alice, was nearby as I flicked the button on the little candle-starter contraption. Instantly, as the flame ignited, Alice recoiled as if she were facing heavy gunfire.

Her reaction is normal for most animals — including most humans.

Sure, fire is fun to play with in your fireplace, campfire or bonfire, but when flames are unexpected and unwelcome, the dachshund’s reaction is pretty much spot on — run!

Local leaders have talked a good bit about fire protection lately — and for good reason, it’s an important public safety issue.

For decades the City of Natchez’s fire department has responded to fires in the county and almost from the beginning, disputes have arisen from the system.

The city doesn’t think the county pays enough for the service while the county doesn’t think it receives enough quality coverage for what it pays.

Despite the flap back and forth, hopefully, cool heads will win out and a better system for all taxpayers will emerge.

But what about the hard-working folks who do just the opposite of our natural instinct — rather than run from fires, they run to fires?

Lost in the shuffle of all of this debate are the fire professionals who strap on a helmet and risk much to save the lives and property of others?

Once upon a time, when making my living with a camera, I wound up at dozens and dozens of fire scenes.

Although it’s been years, if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can hear all the sights, smells and sounds.

Fire scenes can seem chaotic.

Fire trucks rumble as their engines idle to keep water pumps churning. The tailpipes emit exhaust fumes that quickly mix with the smoke and fumes of whatever is burning.

Two-way radio communications crackle loudly in the air as firemen talk back and forth with one another.

Alarms often begin emitting a high pitched shrill — or long ago a constant bell ringing — to alert firefighters that the levels of bottled air strapped on their backs are running low.

Of course none of that takes into account the actual fire itself and the myriad of dangers it creates.

Despite the symphony of noises, sights, smells and risks, professional firefighters always seemed unaffected. They do their jobs calmly and coolly.

That professionalism comes from lots of training and experience. That level of time commitment is difficult for volunteer forces to achieve.

When a person’s house is burning or their family is at risk, two things are important: How fast can help arrive and how skilled are they when they get there.

Volunteers are great and needed in a support role, but they shouldn’t have to be the primary, front-line response to fires.

Whatever happens in further discussions of fire protection, hopefully our community can do two things:

4 Improve the quality of fire protection for more residents. Providing better services should be the goal of local government — city and county.

4 Reward the professional firefighters who risk their lives for us. Many firefighters in the past have worked several jobs due to the low pay they receive. As a community, we need to reevaluate that and put the compensation in line with the risks.

 

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.