Nine Dead

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 30, 2007

Nine dead would otherwise outrage

If nine people from Panola had been killed in Iraq this year, we would all be outraged.

Nine fire deaths. And these victims did not choose to be in harm’s way.

If you thought South Panola football was the only area our community is nationally ranked, think again. Again we are reminded that Panola County leads Mississippi and Mississippi the nation in fire deaths.

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As we close an election year where almost every county candidate threw support behind rural fire protection, we now have an opportunity to see if the hype was sincere or political hot air. But we don’t need to wait. Another life was lost Wednesday.

Smoke alarms will soon be available through the Panola County’s Emergency Management Agency. But that’s not enough. Shiny new red fire trucks can only do so much. When the City of Batesville began stringent enforcement of building codes, some wailed and screamed.

Existing structures were often grandfathered, but new construction, property that changed ownership and rental property had to pass inspection each time occupancy changed. It took awhile, but after a few years of enforcement of building codes, the city’s fire safety record improved and continues in that direction. Even with Panola’s the largest population concentration there have been no fire deaths in Batesville in such a long time that Batesville Fire Department officials are currently researching to determine the date of the last life lost to fire in its city limits. This is no accident.

Immediate fire protection begins with smoke alarms, fire prevention education, fire trucks and equipment, but sustainable, long-term safety will require a serious commitment from county government — a commitment that may initially draw “heat” from the ill-informed but provide a truly safe environment for Panola’s children and our families.

Batesville’s fire safety record proves that building codes protect citizens’ lives.