Crenshaw Firefighters

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 5, 2008

Crenshaw firefighters will get new turnouts

By Billy Davis

Appearing at a board meeting for the third time in three weeks, Crenshaw’s volunteer firefighters on Tuesday made the same request as before: allow them to use fire department funds to purchase badly needed protective clothing.   

Firefighters finally got what they wanted.

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A unanimous vote by the board of aldermen will allow 20 of the town’s firefighters to own the specially-made clothes collectively known as turnout gear required for fighting fires.

Fire Chief Lee Duncan, representing the department, again asked the town officials for help.

A motion by Alderman Shirley Morgan led to the board vote. Morgan suggested that the town enter a contract to purchase the clothing and allow the department to make an annual payment.

Morgan’s first motion had suggested that the fire department enter the contract, and make the payments if the town failed to do so, but both ideas were shot down by board attorney Mary Brown.

“The town will have to pay,” Brown told Morgan.

“The people at this table are held responsible,” Duncan added.

After the meeting, Duncan said the Crenshaw Volunteer Fire Department would make the entire 10-percent down payment of $3,680 from its own fire department funds.

The fire department had asked the town to split the down payment, Duncan said, “but the town said it doesn’t have the money. So we’re paying all of it.”

 The fire department will still depend on Reed and the board of aldermen to make an annual $8,000 payment over five years. Those payments will come from the town’s general fund, where Duncan said $20,000 had been budgeted – and only $3,000 spent – for the fire department.

Duncan said each set of turnout gear includes a pair of pants, coat, helmet, boots and a carrying bag.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Duncan reminded Reed and aldermen that only seven of the town’s 25 firefighters own turnout gear, and those sets are nearly obsolete.

Duncan and Reed clashed at an August 22 meeting when the fire chief demanded the town allow the department to use its own funds and Reed demanded respect for the mayor’s office.

The Tuesday meeting was free of any shouting matches, though Reed repeatedly objected to the purchase of the clothing.

“We don’t need to drown ourselves in debt,” the mayor said at one point, drawing both groans and muffled laughs from an audience of town citizens and firefighters.

But Duncan seemed ready for Reed’s description of a tight budget. He reminded the mayor and aldermen that the $20,000 currently budgeted for the fire department includes $12,000 that comes directly from the state of Mississippi for use by the fire department.

The state funds, known as fire rebate money, flow to counties and municipalities throughout the state but are allocated for use by individual fire departments. Fire departments typically enjoy free use of that money, but Reed has objected to firefighters’ demands that they have access to the funds.

Still another topic of disagreement was Reed’s demand that Duncan return with competing bids for the purchase of turnout gear. But Duncan on Tuesday produced state statutes that allow a fire department to purchase turnouts at a state contract price.

Duncan told the mayor and board that he pursued a competing bid anyway, “and it was $10,000 more.”

Reed also warned aldermen that the town’s fire insurance rating would be in jeopardy if state inspectors visited the under-equipped fire department.