FIRE TRUCK: ‘We need it, but we can’t afford it’

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, December 6, 2023

NATCHEZ — Adams County Supervisors are passing up the chance to apply for a grant of up to $90,000 toward a new fire truck for the volunteer fire service because the county “can’t afford” to foot the rest of the bill for a new truck this fiscal year.

“We need it, but we can’t afford it,” Supervisor Ricky Gray said during Monday’s meeting.

According to the fire service coordinator Darryl Smith, the county’s truck is on its last legs.

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“We down to the point where we’re lucky if the truck can make it to the scene,” Smith said.

Created in 1995, the Rural Fire Truck Acquisition Assistance Program (RFTAAP) provides matching fund grants up to $90,000 for fire truck purchases in rural areas but requires that the funds be matched with the remainder of the cost.

Counties can apply for trucks on behalf of cities with which they have a contract to provide fire protection within a five-mile area of the municipal limits, which is the case of the Adams County fire service and the City of Natchez.

The county pays $700,000 per year for fire protection service from the city to assist volunteer firefighters.

Smith asked supervisors if they would let the city have the grant this time if the city wants it and would agree to let the county use the truck when it’s needed.

However, supervisors said they needed a little more information first, including the grant deadline and how frequently the county can apply for the funds.

For several years, officials have toyed with the thought of building rural fire stations instead of contracting with the city.

This topic came up again on Monday when Smith pointed out that without giving money to the city, the county could afford a new truck.

“It’s hard because fire equipment is expensive,” Smith said, adding that once the volunteer needs are covered, there’s nothing left.

“If we spread stations out, that makes response times faster which would lower the insurance cost for people in the county,” Supervisor Warren Gaines said.

No action was taken to that effect.

Smith also announced that he is considering retirement.

“It’s hard for me to say. I’ve been here 31 years. It has nothing to do with what is going on now,” he said.

Gray encouraged Smith to consider staying long enough for the county to hire and train a new fire coordinator, “at least for a couple of months.”

But Gaines countered, “I hope you can stay along with us a little while … but do what you got to do to take care of you because that’s going to be first and foremost.”