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County fire department wants more paid help

By Alyssa Schnugg

alyssa.schnugg@oxfordeagle.com

Finding people willing to be volunteer firefighters has become harder in recent years, according to Lafayette County Deputy Fire Chief Wes Anderson, who presented the fire department’s proposed budget to the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors Friday.

Years ago, if someone wanted to volunteer at the fire department, they showed up on hopped on a truck. Today, even volunteers are required by state law to undergo 80 hours of firefighting training.

“Training requirements have definitely hurt recruitment,” Anderson told the board.

Much of the departments 100 or so volunteers are made up of aging volunteers, University of Mississippi students and off-duty Oxford Fire Department firefighters.

To help fill in the gaps, the fire department is asking supervisors to approve hiring six full-time firefighters to allow for two per shift, to be in addition to the already staffed three part-time firefighters that are based out of the Central Fire Station.

The six positions would cost an estimated $334,176, once three of the full-time positions reach captain status, leaving the other three as drivers/firefighters.

Anderson said since 2009, calls have increased 35 percent, at a rate of 5.1 percent a year. Firefighters responded to 414 calls in 2015. That’s expected to increase to more than 530 by 2021.

“That might not seem like a lot now, but five years down the road, we’re going to be in real trouble,” he told the supervisors.

Anderson explained the fire department has not only grown in the number of calls, as the county’s population grows but also in the services it provides to the community.

“We do fire prevention, public education, road rescue and we’re the search and rescue team for the entire county,” he said. “We’re not just sitting at the station waiting for a fire.”

Anderson also proposed that if the full-time staff were approved, that they should be required to receive their EMT certification to help patients before an ambulance can arrive. An EMT cannot administer medications. They can perform CPR, use defibrillators  and perform advanced first-aid.

The requested budget without the additional paid employees is $508,562, up from $434,775 last fiscal year. The fiscal year runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

The supervisors are meeting with department heads this month to go over proposed budgets. Once County Administrator Lisa Carwyle receives the actual revenue from taxes proposed for next fiscal year, the supervisors will go over each budget again to see what the county can afford to pay for each department.

The fire department collects 2 mills for fire services, which is about $215,000. Other funds come from fire insurance rebates.

Supervisors suggested District 3 Supervisor David Rikard speak to the city of Taylor about helping to fund two of the requested full-time firefighters to provide more coverage in the south end of the county.

Also on Friday, the supervisors reviewed the proposed budgets for Emergency Management, which requested $140,675, the coroner’s office, which requested $184,675.