County, parish rural fire departments seek volunteers
Published 12:00 am Monday, May 17, 2004
Volunteer fire departments in the Miss-Lou have a tough and sometimes thankless job, but they are almost always in need of just what keeps them going &045;&045; volunteers.
Civil Defense Director and Volunteer Fire Department coordinator George Souderes never turns down a volunteer.
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And he’s constantly looking for more willing hands to work at the county’s four volunteer fire departments.
&uot;The more we have, the better response we can get,&uot; Souderes said.
Since volunteer firefighters are not paid for their work, most of Adams County’s 100 workers also have other jobs that can limit their availability to fight fires.
&uot;Depending on what time of the day it is, we get different numbers of responses,&uot; Souderes said.
In Concordia Parish, the story is the same. The Concordia Fire District started from a cardboard box of paperwork in Bryant Hammett’s office but has grown to eight stations across the parish.
Before CFD, the town fire departments had to respond &uot;and basically leave the towns unprotected,&uot; said Nolen Cothern, CFD fire chief.
The department is similar to any other. They have support personnel to assist with firefighting, the actual entry team that &uot;put their life on the line,&uot; Cothern said, and the medical first responders. But this one is strictly volunteer.
&uot;They come out and do this for absolutely nothing but to help their neighbors,&uot; Cothern said of the volunteers. And they come from all walks of life &045;&045; retired people, truck drivers, nurses, paramedics, mechanics, farmers, you name it.
Getting the call
Volunteers in Adams County are contacted through pagers and portable radios when a call comes in through Natchez central dispatch.
&uot;We pack our beepers and radios with us,&uot; said Donald Johnson, fire chief at the Kingston station. &uot;We get to protect the community and work with Natchez Fire and emergency response teams. You get to learn people. Everybody comes together and works as a unit.&uot;
Each station &045;&045; Kingston, Liberty Road, Foster Mound and Lake Montrose &045;&045; has a fire chief responsible for designing the standard operation procedures for the department, Souderes said.
Each department has about 25 volunteers, 12 to 15 of whom are firefighters. Volunteer office personnel including housewives and retirees work during the day to monitor calls and do clerical work.
Each station responds to calls within a five-mile air radius of the station. Johnson said the Kingston station had responded to about five fire calls in the last two months.
Volunteers are responsible for maintaining the department’s equipment also.
&uot;We need more volunteers,&uot; Foster Mound Chief Stan Owens said. &uot;Everyone has unique talents. It doesn’t matter if you are a firefighter, we need help in all kinds of aspects.&uot;
Cothern said CFD’s largest need is for &uot;young people that are interested in being in the entry team.&uot;
While CFD has about 40 volunteers, there are eight stations across the parish &045;&045; Airport Road (central station), Louisiana 568/Lake St. John, Louisiana 569/Lake St. John, U.S. 84, two miles west of Ferriday, U.S. 84 in Wildsville, Dunbarton, Poole Road and Deer Park.
Monterey has 33 miles to cover with five fire stations and seven trucks but only 18 volunteers.
&uot;We would love to have about 36,&uot; said Jim Graves, fire chief of the Monterey Fire Department. With the growth in population and new houses being built every day, Graves could use the extra help.
Another area of weakness is the daytime, when most of the volunteers are at work. If there is a large fire during the day, Cothern said he would be lucky to have six to eight people respond. This problem is not unique to only CFD but many volunteer departments. But &uot;the problem with volunteers is they burn out,&uot; Cothern said. &uot;Some take off and come back, and some don’t.&uot;
In Adams County, new volunteers will first do station orientation to find out what they are best suited to do, Souderes said. Later on they will attend training at the State Fire Academy and participate in academy training in Adams County.
Many of the volunteers are also Natchez Fire Department employees who offer valuable training to others, Owens said.
&uot;Most of Foster Mound volunteers are NFD that come out on their days off without the pay,&uot; said Owens, a commander at NFD. &uot;I love working with the volunteers. There’s nobody better that gives of themselves.&uot;
Anyone interested in being a volunteer firefighter can pick up an application at he office of Civil Defense.
How they help
The reason the parish needs volunteer fire departments like CFD and MFD is not only for protection but also for lower insurance rates.
With the volunteer departments, all of their training and capabilities, the fire ratings for the parish go down meaning a break on insurance rates for residents. CFD has been performing water shuttles to keep its fire rating of five.
&uot;Five is excellent for volunteers,&uot; Cothern said. &uot;It takes a lot of hard work by these volunteers.&uot;
The scale is from 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst and 1, the best.
&uot;We just got our fire rating lowered from a nine to a seven,&uot; Graves said of Monterey, and that should cut people’s fire insurance by about 50 percent, he said.
But, the cycle is never ending.
&uot;In order to keep that, we are going to have to have more volunteers,&uot; Graves said.