Mark Allen letter

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Letter to the editor

Volunteer chief supports Batesville’s fire department, but calls for fairness

In response to the article and editorial (Your Move: Batesville mulls pay-half fire truck proposal and Fire decision should not be logical, just right, April 20) I would like to give another side of the story.

I have been involved in the fire service in Panola County for over 22 years and have tried to always look at things that benefited the county as a whole versus one department or district.

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The article and editorial that was published at the above date to me was one-sided at best. To start with the Panola County Chiefs’ Association that is made up of fire chiefs throughout the county voted unanimously in a meeting held February 2, 2012 to support assistance from the county to help purchase a fire engine for Batesville to aid them in continued response in the county.

Supervisors were notified that we supported this action and took it under advisement. The offer the county presented was more than fair due to the fact that Panola County, as well as Batesville, is in a financial crunch due to LSP Energy filing bankruptcy and not paying much needed taxes to the city or county. The original proposal that Batesville Fire Chief Tim Taylor presented to the Panola County Chiefs’ Association was for a $350,000 fire engine, of which they wanted Panola County to pay $300,000. The fire engine that the county provides for the county departments is currently $289,000, fully equipped that fully meets the requirements for fire rating.

The truck that Batesville wanted the county to purchase did not come with any equipment and is a four-door cab fire engine.  When asked about why Batesville needed a four door truck, Taylor said that he needed it to take a full crew to fire scenes, but the county accomplishes this with a two-door fire engine. In my opinion maybe Batesville should start using some of those four door pickups they have running around because they could buy a lot of fuel for one of those with a $61,000.00 difference in price between the two trucks offered.

A county supervisor was quoted as saying that in light of the current financial situation of both the county and the city, they needed to quit looking at bells and whistle and settle for what they needed. The Chiefs’ Association made a motion to assist Batesville with fire engine, but never discussed a dollar amount. The money for the county fire trucks comes from a 1.25 mil of property taxes and every district and municipality in Panola County pays into this fund including Courtland, Pope, and Crowder, except for 4 municipalities including Batesville, Sardis, Como, and Crenshaw, which have never paid anything into this fund.

When this proposal was presented to the Chiefs’ Association, Chief Taylor also included a letter from the Mississippi State Ratings Bureau that was dated May 2, 2008 stating that the 1991 Pierce Custom Pumper and the 1991 GMC Pumper would need to be replaced in 2013. Nothing was ever mentioned to Panola County regarding the 1991 GMC Pumper that now serves as the county response truck needing to be replaced until earlier this year.

When asked about why nothing was mentioned until now Taylor stated that he was trying to get a grant so that he wouldn’t have to ask for money from the county. Regardless of his intentions, if he had notified the county at the time he was notified, the county could have maybe made provisions for the purchase of a replacement pumper. Taylor waited till January 11, 2012 to inquire with the Mississippi State Rating Bureau about information regarding them having to replace the 1991 GMC if they continued to respond in the county. On January 12, 2012, Richard Watkins of the rating bureau responded saying,

“Chief Taylor
Our letter, dated May 2, 2008, still applies to the grading of the City of Batesville. To answer your question, if the City of Batesville were to cease responding outside of its municipal limits, you would only have to replace one pumper. Currently the city is required to have and staff one (1) ladder truck and (3) three pumpers. We ask for a fourth pumper and staff for the number of calls the city responds to outside the municipal limits, thus bringing your total to one (1) ladder and (4) pumpers. In addition, yes the city should be making plans to replace the 1991 Pierce custom pumper. A plan to replace the 1991  commercial (GMC) pumper should have already been implemented.”

The City of Batesville now all of a sudden wants Panola County to buy a truck in 2012 that they knew they had to replace back in 2008. The Batesville Fire Department already receives just over $7000.00 a year from the county in State Rebate that is supposed to be used for equipment purchases.

This money is part of a county contract to provide fire service in Panola County outside of the municipality. The county fire departments also receive $7000 in rebate funds along with on an average $8000 in county tax money, which puts most county departments’ annual budgets at around $15,000.00 plus what ever money the receive thru donations and fund raisers.

Some county departments don’t even receive as much as $8,000 and have much lower budgets. Most families that I know of in Panola County would have trouble surviving on that budget, so you can imagine how hard it is for the county departments to buy fuel and service trucks as well as buy much needed protective fire gear for the personnel. The average cost of a suit of personal protective equipment for each firefighter is around $2000.

Batesville Fire Department has a budget that exceeds $500,000.00 per year. They have reported that last year that they responded to 325 calls in the county according to the original proposal, but later we were told that 132 calls were in the county, but 69 calls were shown to be cancelled in route in which no equipment or personnel were utilized by the county.

For anyone to say that we have to have Batesville Fire Department to respond into the county in order to have trained personnel needs to get his head out of the sand (putting it nicely) and check with the county fire departments and see how many firefighters that are certified firefighters, hazmat awareness and operations certified, hazmat tech, as well as certified emergency medical responders.

The contract that each fire department signs each year requires that every firefighter that joins a fire department in the county is required to complete level 1 firefighter certification within 18 months. These firefighters do so not because they are getting paid but because they want to help their community and volunteer to do so without any payment. These firefighters use their own vehicles and gas to respond to calls, go to meetings, and attend training, in which no reimbursement is made.

It is funny to me that Batesville is making reference to stop responding outside the municipality, and they have depended on county departments for support during every major fire in the municipality including First Security Bank, Pizza Hut, Western Sizzler, Dollar General, Calvary Baptist Church, Ellis Ornamental Iron, and the list goes on.

The last issue of the Panolian stated what would North Delta School or TC’s Lumber do in case of a fire, well the county would respond. Batesville Fire Department with all their equipment and training is useless without water. Most of their trucks only hold 500 gallons of water and with two fire attack hoses putting out 125 gallons per minute that only gives them two minutes of water.

Where does every one think that the water on these scenes come from? If you are in the city it comes from fire hydrants, but when in the county Batesville’s trucks are useless due to lack of water and they depend on the county to provide water and manpower. The only equipment that Batesville has that we do not have in the county is a ladder truck.

Insurance ratings were also mentioned. I would like to also inform the people of the county that there are four county departments that are working progressively at this time to achieve a class 8 fire rating. If the insurance companies are going to rate a residence on their current fire district, which they have already started doing since Hurricane Katrina, then wouldn’t it make more since to support your local fire department?

I guess what I am getting at, is the offer to pay for half of a fire truck is more than a fair offer due to the fact that it is only used in the county 33% of the time. Especially since a large chunk of that will be taken care of with a grant, $109,000.00 for the county and the same for Batesville seem more than fair. Taylor has said in the Chiefs’ meeting that it is not fair to ask Batesville citizens to pay for fire service in the county. With that being said it is not fair for the citizens of the county to pay for fire service in the city.  With the current financial situation with Panola County I feel that they have given a more than a fair offer.  

Mark A. Allen
Fire Chief
Coles Point Volunteer Fire Department

(Editor’s note: City water lines with fire hydrants extend beyond corporate limits west to North Delta School and northeast to the Panola County Airport and David M. Bryan Justice Complex and along Bethlehem Road. The water lines with hydrants also extend beyond city limits along Mt. Olivet Road, city Gas Superintendent Mike Ross said.)