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Lafayette County volunteer fire department wants more paid help; asks board for more money

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OXFORD, Mississippi — With volunteer firefighters having to spend more time at their job to earn a living, it leaves them less time to fight fires in Lafayette County.

To help keep the county safe and well covered, the Lafayette County Volunteer Fire Department is asking the board of supervisors to consider allowing them to have more full-time firefighters staffed throughout the day.

In the 2015-2016 fiscal year budget, the fire department submitted a proposal to put on more full-time staff to supplement the volunteers.

"We looked at it as the next logical step to protect the citizens of Lafayette County," said Lafayette County Fire Coordinator Jerry Johnson.

Currently, there are three paid firefighters who work 7 a.m. to 7 a.m., five days a week. The weekends and nights are protected with volunteer firefighters, which have been decreasing in numbers over the last several years, Johnson said.

"Volunteerism is going down dramatically," he said. "And they're aging. We don't have has many interior firefighters as we did."

An interior firefighter is one who can go into a burning structure and has the strength and physical ability to fight the fires inside and rescue people.

"Take someone like me, I can help be support at a fire. I can direct and help with hoses," he said. "But I can't run into a building with all that equipment on. We used to have about 100 interior firefighters. Now we have about 40 dispersed around the county."

There are 12 firefighters on the payroll who switch out the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. positions currently. Johnson said the department is not asking to hire any more firefighters, but to switch shifts around so the entire day is covered.

There would be two fulltime firefighters on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The shifts would be 24 hours on, 48 hours off for each firefighter. There would still be one part-time firefighter on staff from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., five days a week.

The increase would cost about $200,000 for the extra hours, Johnson said, and may require an increase in the millage rate given to the fire department. Johnson said the millage has been the same since 1990.

Johnson said he feels certain the supervisors will look at his proposal seriously and do what is best for the safety of county residents and to enhance fire protection. If it is approved, Johnson said he would like to see the positions staffed and on board by the first of the year.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Lafayette County is the fastest growing county in the state and in a recent report of predicted population, Lafayette County is expected to become home to an average of 108 people a month over the next year.

"When looking at growth like that, our call volume is expected to jump up," Johnson said. "It already has. We're battling 35 to 40 structure fires a year. That's not including grass fires and woods fires and other types of calls we respond to, like vehicle wrecks."

Johnson said he believes the proposal is the best and most cost-effective way to improve on the level of service.

"We're trying to provide the best service we can at the cheapest cost to the county," he said. "Hopefully, the supervisors will agree."


Information from: Oxford Eagle, http://www.oxfordeagle.com

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