Fundraiser launched for Natchez Fire Department

Published 12:41 am Monday, January 25, 2016

NATCHEZ — When Darby’s caught fire in November 2014, the Natchez Fire Department pumped 20,000 gallons of water onto the flames, working for hours.

Now, one of the shop’s owners is trying to help the fire department fight fires more quickly and with less water.

Darby’s co-owner Dennis Short is leading a community effort to raise funds for a thermal imaging camera to donate to the fire department, and he will appear before the Board of Aldermen Tuesday to ask for their help.

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The thermal cameras allow firefighters to see heat signatures, which will help locate and quench hotspots in a smoke-filled room. They can also help responders find and rescue people and animals potentially trapped inside.

“It’s kind of like night vision,” Short said. “It lets you see through smoke, through walls, mostly in the fire department’s case, it lets them see fire, and where to put water to put the fire out.”

The Natchez Fire Department has only of these machines, which it received over a decade ago and is essentially obsolete, Short said.

If the firefighters who responded to the store had used a thermal imaging camera, Short said he believes they would have been able to use less water, and might have prevented the hot spots that started flaming again later the same evening.

“It was just black, you couldn’t see but little pieces of flame,” Short said of the fire that destroyed his shop. “(Firefighters) couldn’t see where the flame was coming from.”

Short met with the fire department officials and Fire Chief Aaron Wesley to discuss exactly which model and how many machines would best aid the department’s efforts.

The machine they chose costs $5,000 each, and Darby’s hopes to raise enough money to donate 10 of them to the fire department.

Darby’s is buying the first one with a $5,000 donation to start the fund off.

Short started a account, where people can donate money online to benefit the fund, but he said it isn’t the perfect solution because GoFundMe donations are not tax-deductible.

“We got a couple people now that want to buy a whole machine or go in $2,500,” Short said. “But they need it to be a write-off.”

To solve that problem, Short met with Natchez Mayor Butch Brown, who said the city would be able to provide the infrastructure to set up a tax-free donation fund.

Community Development Director James Johnston is scheduled to appear before the Board of Aldermen Tuesday to ask to set up a fund through the city to disburse the money without fees.

The fundraiser would still rely on private donations, Short said. If the creation of the fund is approved, the money that has already been raised through the website will be moved to the city hall account.