Give a little to those who give so much.
They are your neighbors. The men and women willing to leave the comfort of their homes at a moments notice and put their lives on the line to ensure the safety of their own community. When there is a fire, they go. Without hesitation. Without pay. They are the more than 1,000 volunteer firefighters who make up the rural volunteer fire departments in East Mississippi.
The service provided by volunteer fire departments is priceless. When a fire or emergency situation arises, time is of the essence. Volunteer fire departments provide the reaction time necessary to stifle a burning home, rescue victims and salvage valuables in rural communities.
Volunteer firefighters get no personal gain for the heroic work they do. Their greatest reward is knowing they are helping their neighbors.
Volunteer firefighters are called upon not only to donate an enormous amount of time and energy to fighting fires and responding to emergency rescues but also to work to continually maintain the fundraising efforts of their department. Although some financial support is provided by state and local funding, the amount needed to maintain the department, equipment and train firefighters is much greater.
“If the individual fire departments didn’t have fund-raisers, they would be in real trouble,” said Winston County Fire Coordinator, Sandy Nowell. Volunteer fire departments are responsible for paying for buildings, insurance, fire trucks, utilities, repairs and every firefighter’s turn-out gear and training.
“For example, the cost of outfitting one volunteer firefighter in National Fire Protection Association approved turn-out gear, including an air pack is over $1,900,” said Nowell.
The safety and preparedness of each firefighter is costly but of the utmost importance to the success of the department. All volunteer firefighters are offered 12 hours of state-certified training, paid for by the State Fire Academy. “Most departments also require an additional 38-hour certification program that must be paid for by the departments or the individual firefighters,” Nowell said.
“Every firefighter works to raise funds in the community throughout the year,” said Quitman Fire Chief Mickey Long, a veteran volunteer firefighter of 19 years. “In general, the community is always quick to help.”
Long remembers a time when his department was hoping to be one of the first departments in east Mississippi to offer the jaws of Life equipment in rescue emergencies.
“Every merchant and so many people in the community came through with donations and support,” Long said. “With help from our community, we were able to purchase our first rescue tools.”
Protecting individuals, families, merchants, schools and churches is what volunteer fire departments do, Long said. This important job could not be done without the volunteers who fight the fires and the communities who support them. It is truly neighbors helping neighbors in east Mississippi.