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Billy Davis Column

Fire deaths demand countywide inspections

At 10:45 Wednesday morning, authorities placed a 2-year-old child into a black body bag, laid the bag on a gurney, then wheeled her lifeless body around the north side of her family’s charred mobile home, down the short gravel driveway, and into the back of a coroner’s van.

As that gurney bounced toward the white van, firefighters and paramedics were dabbing their eyes as they watched My’Lesiya Connor leave home for the last time.

The death of the little girl marks the ninth fire-related death in Panola County in 2007. The number ensures that Panola County remains the most likely place to die due to fire in Mississippi, while Mississippi remains the most likely place to die by fire in the United States.

Mississippi leads the nation, and Panola County leads the state.

My’Lesiyah Connor’s death Wednesday also marks the ninth reason Panola County’s board of supervisors should take action in the coming months. Supervisors must strengthen Panola County’s fire code requirements.

A cooperative effort is already ongoing between the Miss. Department of Health and Panola County’s utility services. When a homeowner wants the electricity turned on, an occupancy permit must first be obtained from the county’s permit office. Before the permit is issued, a health official inspects the sewer system and, if a trailer was built before 1976, also inspects the trailer’s wiring. If the wiring is aluminum, it must be replaced with copper wiring before the home can be occupied and electricity is turned on.

The inspection of those older mobile homes is already included in Panola County’s zoning ordinances. In 2008, supervisors should improve and update that requirement to include all mobile homes and houses.

Panola County’s Emergency Management office has made great strides in past months to address fire safety in the county. Thanks to grant money, about 1,300 free smoke detectors have now arrived and will soon be distributed to homes in coming weeks and months. More grant money has been requested for even more detectors.

The supervisors now have a choice. They can claim victory through the efforts of Panola County EMA, or they can add to that effort by working together as a board to require an inspection of homes. Nine deaths later, it’s past time the supervisors show leadership and vision on this issue.

2008 is almost here, and with it comes a fresh start on the five-man board.

Supervisors, it’s time to go to work.

(Email Davis at billyd@panolian.com)