County volunteer firefighters help area insurance ratings

Published 1:06 am Sunday, June 13, 2010

NATCHEZ — The men and women of the Adams County volunteer fire departments know a leisurely dinner with family isn’t a promise.

And for at least one family of volunteers, the solution is simply to bring family to work.

Kingston Road Volunteer Fire Department Chief Donald Johnson has a crew of 12 volunteers — most of them family including his father, nephew and two sons.

This is the first in a four-part series about area volunteer firefighters and their contributions to surrounding communities.

Johnson has been with the station since it got started in 1991, when former supervisor the late Walter Salmon worked to see the station built.

“Mr. Salmon was the one who talked me into getting involved here,” Johnson said. “It was one of his goals and dreams to get a station out here.”

Now, Johnson’s son John Carl Johnson is just another in the family line serving the community through the department.

“I like being able to go out and help folks,” John Carl said. “It is nice actually being a part of something good.”

Who they are

Adams County has four volunteer fire departments, each with four to six active volunteers and approximately 15 names on a roster of helpers.

Volunteers from the stations on Foster Mound, Lake Montrose, Liberty and Kingston roads respond to wilderness fires in the county and assist the Natchez Fire Department with structure fires that occur within a five-road-mile radius of their station.

An agreement between the city and county provides coverage from the Natchez Fire Department throughout the entire county.

Adams County Emergency Management Director Stan Owens serves as fire coordinator over each volunteer chief.

Liberty Road Fire Chief Keith Nations pointed out that anyone who lives in the district, male or female, can join the department.

Many jobs do not put volunteers in direct contact with the fire, including maintaining the pressure on the hoses at the scene, working with computers, driving the truck or even keeping the fire station clean, Nations said.

Volunteers typically respond to fire calls when they can.

Johnson said the volunteers on his Kingston crew were fit for the job.

“They are young and have a lot of stamina,” Johnson said. “Which is what you need in saving someone’s home from total destruction.”

One young member of the Kingston Road crew, George Bunch, had dreamed of being a volunteer firefighter when he was younger.

“My dad was always a volunteer firefighter in the Jackson area, so it was just something I always wanted to do,” Bunch said.

Bunch said that being a part of the crew that puts their lives on the line for the Kingston area more than lived up to how he imagined it.

“I just like knowing that there is a fire department in the community,” Bunch said. “I’ve been doing this for three years, and I’m glad to keep the community safe from fires.”

How they serve you

Charles Messmer has been involved with the Foster Mound Road Volunteer Fire Department, the newest department, for approximately two years.

But it wasn’t until after Messmer met with his chief that he realized his work could help area residents who never even saw a fire.

“The more volunteers there are, the more fire insurance rates go down,” Messmer said.

State Farm Insurance Agent Stuart Heflin said residents who live five miles from the NFD, even those in the county, benefit from its fire care rating of five. The fire rating scale is 1 to 10, with one being the best.

Residents not falling within the Natchez Fire radius, but near a volunteer fire department receive either a nine or 10 rating, depending on the district.

“It is a good difference from class five to 10 in terms of insurance rate,” Heflin said.

Kingston is the only class nine station, bringing a decrease in insurance prices for Kingston area residents.

Owens said Kingston has a better rating than other volunteer departments because of the work of Salmon, who pushed to have additional fire hydrants put into the area.

The Mississippi State Rating Bureau issues ratings, and Superintendent of the Public Protection Department Ty Windham said the rating bureau looks at four areas in assigning ratings, including water supply, number of volunteers, number of trucks and training of the volunteers.

More volunteers could bring down fire ratings in all the districts.

How they are funded

Each volunteer fire department is funded through the Adams County Board of Supervisors and any grants fire coordinator Owens can acquire.

Owens said the supervisors fund maintenance, including electricity, at the stations and gas for the trucks. The supervisors also provide the volunteers with workman’s compensation coverage, Owens said. Each department receives approximately $15,000 a year.

The county-wide budget for fire protection is approximately $600,000, which includes the interlocal agreement with the Natchez Fire Department and insurance costs.

Grants are used to purchase new equipment, and Owens said that the county has been lucky in acquiring grants for the stations.

“The county was pretty fortunate with grants — Foster Mound and Lake Montrose were recently awarded $15,000 each,” Owens said. “Kingston will get $65,000 next year. Most of that money they get is spent on protective gear.”

Owens said a fire suit — helmet, coat, pants and boots — alone costs approximately $2,200.

Why they do it

Foster Mound Volunteer Fire Department Chief Eddie Ray knows the volunteers who work with him have a passion for what they do.

He knows, because he has that same passion.

Ray said he didn’t get involved with the station because of the thrill or the adrenaline of fighting fires. He said his motivation was to serve, and Ray takes it seriously.

“If you have a house fire, you have to be ready to roll immediately — you can’t wait and finish your supper,” Ray said. “Somebody could be trapped in the house.”

Ray said volunteering takes up approximately three hours per fire and months could go by without a fire, but training sessions do require regular attendance.

Messmer, who works on the Mississippi River, seven days on and seven days off, said he wanted a way to give back during his down time.

“This is something I’m trained to do, through my job,” Messmer said. “Anytime we get a call, it could be my house, it could be my