Delay in dispatching Miss. volunteers investigated

Firefighters aren't being the first notified about fires in their area; officials say dispatchers should receive training to make determine which department to call

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ, Miss. — County officials expressed concern Monday that Adams County’s volunteer firefighters aren’t being the first notified about fires in their area.

As part of Adams County’s cooperative agreement with the City of Natchez for fire protection, the county is supposed to work to reduce the number of calls the Natchez Fire Department responds to outside the city limits.

In recent months, Natchez fire officials have said calls outside the city limits have been rising.

At the Monday meeting of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Mike Lazarus asked if the volunteer fire departments are getting calls from dispatchers before the NFD responds.

“The city has a report on how many times they go out into the county, but do we even have a record of them calling our volunteers?” Lazarus asked.

Emergency Management Director Stan Owens said dispatchers have been calling the NFD and then notifying the volunteer fire departments, a statement that puzzled President Darryl Grennell.

“If the dispatchers are calling Natchez first, how are we going to reduce the calls?” he said.

Lazarus said dispatchers should receive some kind of training to make a judgment call about which fire department to call.

Those questions should include if the call is for a grass fire, if it is a small fire and if any structures are threatened by it, he said.

Owens said some areas of the county aren’t covered by volunteer protection, though Volunteer Fire Coordinator Darryl Smith said county residents are picking up applications.

“Should we just take every dime we’ve got and pay half the city’s (fire) budget?” Lazarus said. “This is not a fight I’m going to fight every year. (The mayor) is going to come in here and want more money, and he is going to come in here with facts.

“If I was sitting in the city’s position and I wanted the calls to go up in the county, I could make it.”

Lazarus said he wanted the county government to pay its share with the city and to be fair, but he didn’t know what the next step was to ensure dispatchers worked with volunteer fire departments.

Owens said the only way to do so was to get a consolidated dispatching center in which the Natchez Police, Adams County Sheriff’s Office and Natchez Fire Department were all working together.

The Emergency 911 board has met several times to discuss the matter, Owens said.

“If we need to find a place (for central dispatch), we will find a place,” Lazarus said. “Do I need to get a pizza to get them in here, do I need to get them on the phone, will that work to get everybody in here to work together?”

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said Monday was the first time he’d heard a complaint about dispatch services.

“Every month, when the numbers of to-the-county responses were over 25 percent of total calls — and it got as high as 51 percent — to my knowledge, there was nothing said about dispatch, and they made no calls for assistance for help with dispatch that I am aware of,” Brown said.

The mayor said a centralized dispatch was a part of the fire protection agreement, but because the Adams County Sheriff’s Office did not want to participate in a central dispatch system, it would be inefficient.

“There would be nobody to work with together except the fire department,” he said.

Brown said he’s concerned about other aspects of the fire protection agreement as well, including the fact that the county has not provided the NFD with a new fire truck as agreed.

Owens said last week he was waiting for news about a grant before the county moved forward with the purchase.

But Brown said he thought the purchase should have been provided regardless of the grant.

“We didn’t discuss them providing us a fire truck with a grant, we discussed them acquiring a fire truck,” he said. “If they don’t comply with the (fire protection) agreement, we are going to be forced to terminate it, and then the county is going to be naked for fire protection for all that industry that is growing out at the port and in the north of the county.”

Even as the supervisors discussed the need for clearer communication between dispatch services and volunteer fire fighting departments, Smith said he is continuing efforts to recruit volunteers and will attend neighborhood watch programs in the county to speak to residents there.

Lazarus said those who live outside the city limits but don’t want to be volunteer firefighters have another option, one he doesn’t think they will find pleasant.

“For those people who don’t want to be volunteers, we are going to have to go out there and raise taxes on the people outside the city limits, and they will have to pick up part of this for fire protection,” he said.

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