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Supervisors analyze options for county fire protection

NATCHEZ — The Adams County Board of Supervisors authorized county fire coordinator Stan Owens Friday to develop a job description for an assistant fire coordinator as part of a plan eyeing the future of expanded county fire protection.

The authorization came at the recommendation of consultant Jay Fitch, who has agreed to work with the county and the City of Natchez on the project.

Fitch said he has received some preliminary information about the fire equipment already available and done some drive-time tests from different fire stations. The biggest initial observation about the project he has is that the county has no medical first responder capacity, which Fitch said should be as much a priority as fire suppression.

The consultant also said that water resources in the county are limited and tankers are going to be needed at strategic locations in the future.

Three options are possible when considering fire protection, Fitch said.

The first is to maintain the status quo, and the second is to maintain the status quo but modify it by adding an assistant county fire coordinator’s position that is tasked specifically with helping volunteer fire departments gain additional training and upgrade their equipment.

Currently, the Natchez Fire Department responds to fire calls in Adams County outside the city limits, and the county makes an annual payment for those services. For 2013, the payment was $626,000.

While some discussion has been made about having single-person daytime staffing at some of the volunteer fire departments with some support from county crews, Fitch said he did not recommend it.

“Other counties have done that, and that has rarely worked in the long term,” he said.

At least five firefighters are required on the ground before one can enter a building to fight a fire, Fitch said.

The third option would be to build two manned fire stations in the north and south of the county, manned by two people 24 hours a day.

“That particular option could reduce the number of calls the city makes outside its limits, but you are still going to have that backup relationship,” Fitch said.

The consultant said he recommended the modified status quo because it would allow them to start planning for whatever the future may hold.

“I don’t think you have the resource capacity to say that in six months we are going to have this done,” he said. “This is a big project.”

Supervisor David Carter said some of the volunteer fire departments have enough volunteers to provide backup for fire crews, but many of the volunteers are not active.

“If your volunteer group goes out and it is well organized with your dispatcher, and the volunteer group goes out and sees that the call is a grass fire and they can handle it they can call the city and say, ‘Don’t worry about this we can handle this,’” Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said. “That would reduce the calls the city has to respond to, but if that grass fire is about to reach a house, they can still call the city.”

The supervisors also gave Fitch the authority to approach the city government on behalf of the county about future fire plans.

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