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By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
The biggest problem Starkville Fire Department had to face in 2011 wasnâ€™t the fires; it was the lack of funding for new equipment and new hires.
â€śFor a run prospective, we really had no abnormally high runs nor major fire losses. It was pretty much somewhat of a down year which is actually good because of the economically difficult times weâ€™re dealing with,â€ť Mann said. â€śAs a department looking toward the future, weâ€™ve still got very pressing needs that have to get addressed.â€ť
SFD recently replaced some of their smaller vehicles â€” the pickup trucks used by the fire marshals or in medical emergencies, for example â€” but it will need to replace both a ladder truck and a pumper truck in the near future, which are much more expensive investments.
â€śThe (board of aldermen) is doing what the board can do, but the clock is ticking on some of our apparatuses and itâ€™s going to continue to tick away,â€ť Mann said. â€śWe have to look at replacing these trucks before it gets too late.â€ť
SFD has also had to deal with understaffing over the last year due at least in part to retention issues. In December, it had four new recruits graduate from the fire academy, but the department still doesnâ€™t have enough firefighters. The department has lost personnel to retirement, the private sector and other area fire stations offering higher wages.
â€śI hired a guy in June and the first week in July he left us for West Point because he was able to acquire more money. He got a raise just by going to West Point,â€ť Mann said. â€śIt is what it is. Weâ€™re almost three times the size of West Point, but theyâ€™re paying more. Weâ€™re behind West Point; weâ€™re behind Columbus; weâ€™re behind almost everybody when it comes to pay scale.â€ť
The departmentâ€™s newest station, Station 5 on Reed Road near the Highway 25 bypass, was completed over the summer, but has yet to become fully operational. The station will need 12 firefighters, but SFD has only been able to hire and train one firefighter.
â€śItâ€™s just sitting there waiting to open,â€ť Mann said. â€śIt all goes back on when funding can be secured. Thatâ€™s all weâ€™re waiting on. We were in hopes of being able to address it in October, but the funding wasnâ€™t there so weâ€™re hoping to look at it early next year. Then weâ€™ll see where we are.â€ť
The chief acknowledged that funding is an issue for nearly all public departments and SFD would continue to serve the public the best it can.
Early next year, the department will receive a new training trailer that will help the firefighters practice live burns and confined space scenarios.
â€śItâ€™s done in a very controlled environment with a high degree of emphasis on safety,â€ť Mann said. â€śWe put our guys in live fire under tightly controlled circumstances where if they do something wrong, it can be shut down without anyone getting hurt.â€ť