Firemen speak out about idle fire truck controversy

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Until just last week, the garage at East Central Volunteer Fire Department's Big Point substation was home to the ill-fated Engine Ten.  But now, firemen say after four years behind closed doors, the truck has finally moved.

"Well, April 5th they started the truck up with very little assistance," said Stephen Reynolds, a volunteer firefighter with East Central.  "It cranked up on its own, and drove from here at Big Point to our main station in Hurley."

It's a small job for most trucks.  But last week's run was the first time this $175,000 investment has rolled in years.  East Central Fire Chief Corky Tigner maintains the truck is a lemon that can't be used because it's wrapped up in a lawsuit against the manufacturer, E-one. He said that by driving the truck, he was only taking advice from his lawyer.

"He told us to clean the truck up, which we've done," said Tigner of his lawyer's orders.  "We've fueled it up. We are hiring an independent mechanic that's going to look at the truck."

But for several department members, including Reynolds, the ride demonstrates something else. Many of them believe the truck is fine.

"Yes, I believe the truck runs well," Reynolds said.  "It runs well enough that I'm willing to get in it and drive it. We're willing to take it out and test it."

He said that although he wasn't working for the fire department at the time Engine Ten was sidelined, he believes Engine Ten's four year flight from service didn't have to happen at all.

"From all the records and what we've been told, the truck wasn't running. A motion was made to drive it back to Sunbelt. Well the motion was never carried out."

It's something Tigner emphatically denies.

"The department made a motion, had a second and discussed it to send the truck back to Sunbelt, they did not want it again," said Tigner.

When asked whether the truck was sent, he said "Yes."

When asked what happened after the truck was sent, he said, "They brought it back, we locked it up. They [members of the department] did not want it anymore."

Another fireman with the department who didn't want to go on camera sent a letter this week to Jackson County Fire Commissioners and Supervisors.  In his letter, he outlined many of the same discrepancies, and asked for help and support in resolving the Engine Ten controversy, among other things.  It will hit many of their desks Tuesday.

Several members of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors said they weren't aware of Engine Ten's idle state until a few weeks ago. District 1 Supervisor Manly Barton said he believes the confusion is mostly a misunderstanding. He also said he wants to look further into the issue.

Barton, as well as 4th District Supervisor Tommy Brodnax have both mentioned the WLOX the possibility that the Jackson County Fire District could eventually begin to have more centralized oversight over the volunteer fire departments.  While Barton didn't express an opinion on the issue, both Brodnax and Reynolds believe added oversight would help prevent problems like these within the departments, which currently run as independent organizations.

Barton said that he will consider the volunteer firefighters in any future decisions made about the fire district.

"At the end of the day, the volunteers are important," he said.  "And we've got to find a way to keep them included.  Without them, this whole thing wouldn't work."

As for Engine Ten, Reynolds hopes the truck is put back to work.

"Once we get the OK, we'll get it out and test the fire out of it before we put it in service," he said.

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