Adams County Volunteer Fire Service names first female fire chief

Published 12:51 pm Monday, February 20, 2023

NATCHEZ — As if this month, Adams County has its first volunteer female fire chief in county history.

After nine years as a faithful volunteer at the Liberty Road Volunteer Fire Department, Billie Haley-Humphreys said her promotion to Volunteer Fire Chief of the department is something she has worked hard for.

“It’s an accomplishment and I’ve worked hard to do it,” she said. “It took a lot of classes and a lot of work and it was just a real privilege that they thought to promote me to fire chief. … It was an incredible honor. I am glad Supervisor Angela Hutchins supported me and decided to promote me to that position along with Fire Coordinator Darryl Smith and Emergency Management Director Robert Bradford.”

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Humphreys became involved as a support member of the volunteer fire department through her late husband, Jason Haley.

Now, Humphreys said volunteer fire service is like a “family business” for her and her husband Clayton Humphreys and her 25-year-old son, Jeremy Smith.

“We all do it,” she said, adding whether she is related to the other volunteers or not “We all become family.”

In 2014, Humphreys joined the department as support staff and jotted down the notes needed for reports. At that time, she wasn’t fighting any fires just yet.

“That was it,” she said. “Eventually, I became an administrative assistant and started writing all the fire reports that get turned in to the state. I first did that for the Liberty Road department and then they decided I was so good at it that I started doing it for all four departments.”

Humphreys later became the first female truck operator and worked hard through weeks of basic training to become “Firefighter 1-certified,” meaning she studied how to enter a burning building, about search patterns and how to watch what a fire is doing to keep it controlled.

She can now command the scene of a fire and is currently working toward a more advanced Firefighter 2 certification, which includes studies about controlling larger fires and chemical fires among other things. She also works closely with Adams County Emergency Management to respond to other emergency situations besides fires.

She became the assistant fire chief in 2019 serving under then-fire chief Raymond McDonald. McDonald retired from the chief role in early February but still remains a volunteer, Humphreys said.

“While we have other support staff doing what I was when I first started, I am currently the only female that is an actual firefighter,” she said.

The training was difficult, Humphreys said, “But as long as you have the determination to do it, you can do it. I’m fortunate to have a great support system, including the volunteer Fire Coordinator Darryl Smith and the Emergency Management Director Robert Bradford. They pushed me and said, ‘Come on Billie you can do this,’ and so I did.”

One of the difficult aspects of the job is knowing when you should respond and when it’s better to wait at the station prepared to respond to another emergency should one arise, she said.

“If Foster Mound gets a call, our first instinct is to go, but my duty is to stay at the Liberty Road station and be ready to respond if anything else happens,” she said. “Since my time here, we thankfully have only had very few fatalities. Normally, when there is a fatality — being the female — I can generally go to the family and get them to step back from the scene so we can recover the body without them seeing. I do whatever I can do and I would not ask my people to do anything that I couldn’t do myself.”

Other situations, like the Excellent Inn hotel fire two years ago, have required all stations to respond and help the city fire department, she said.

Humphreys said as fire chief, her vision is to see the volunteer fire department grow.

“I would love to see us obtain more volunteers to have a full department so that there are always people who respond during the day or night,” she said. “With myself and my husband included, we currently have 8 or 9 volunteers at Liberty Road department and we could all use some more.”