John Howell Sr. editorial 10/16/2015

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 16, 2015

John Howell Sr.

Lower insurance bills are result of volunteers’ work

Is it a big deal to anybody else that homeowners in four Panola County fire districts will see fire insurance premiums reduced from $250 to $375 annually?

Panola Emergency Management Director Daniel Cole announced to county supervisors Monday (or October 12) that the Pope, Bynum, Red Hill and Longtown Volunteer Fire Departments will move from the Mississippi Fire Ratings Bureau’s class 10 to class nine. With the new classification come the reduced rates for fire insurance. Multiplying the $250 to $375 times the number of homeowners paying fire insurance premiums in those four districts gives an idea of the economic impact of the improved fire ratings.

That’s several hundred dollars from each family’s income that can be redirected to other uses — everything from partially offsetting price of groceries that seem to keep increasing in spite of reports that there is little or no inflation in the national economy to more discretionary purchases. It is also a return on tax millage that county residents pay each year in support of their fire districts and a return to the county where supervisors make decisions about funding purchases of fire equipment that often start at a quarter of a million dollars.

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That’s just the potential economic benefit. The lower fire insurance rating also reflects a fire department’s ability to move more rapidly their trained personnel and equipment — and volumes of water when needed — to the scenes of emergencies ranging from medical first responses while an ambulance is en route to structure fires to the tangled wreckage of vehicles.
And Mt. Olivet working toward class seven and Coles Point working toward class eight! (Our story in Tuesday’s edition, “Four Panola fire departments improve ratings to Class Nine,” accidentally interchanged the ratings of those departments.)

 I recall reading many years ago the requirements for the county’s volunteer departments to escape the class 10 bottom rating and thinking that they were almost insurmountable.

How wrong I was proved as determined residents of communities throughout Panola County have mounted years-long efforts to establish the volunteer fire departments.

Then they raised funds to help equip themselves while supervisors came to appreciate that fire and emergency services are a quality of life issue that they are expected to provide as best they can with the funds available, providing support with funding for equipment purchases and for the Emergency Management Agency that coordinates all these efforts.

And everybody understands that the job is never finished. Equipment becomes obsolete and volunteers move or age out (though I’ve seen a few from the “long-in-the-tooth” crowd still among the first to respond, even after 30 years).

Now the county Emergency Management Agency is working to get three more class ten fire districts — Union, Pleasant Grove and Curtis-Locke Station — to meet class nine requirements.
The biggest need is personnel — more volunteer firefighters who can respond to structure fires in a timely fashion, call after call, Cole said.

It’s a big commitment of time for training and responding. But it’s not impossible as I once thought. That’s what the volunteers at Pope, Bynum, Red Hill and Longtown, most recently, proved.