Volunteer fire departments get new equipment

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

WIGGINS, MS (WLOX) - Volunteer firefighters in South Mississippi will be better prepared to battle woods fires.

The Mississippi Forestry Commission is providing ten volunteer departments with special turnout gear. It's part of an ongoing federal grant program to better equip volunteer firefighters.

"This is the NOMEX coveralls. Of course, NOMEX is a fire resistant material. You can see it's lightweight," said Bill Kitchings, as he showed off the firefighting turnout gear that will be given to ten volunteer fire departments.

It's part of an ongoing federal grant program that's already helped equip more than 700 volunteer firefighters in Mississippi.

"We depend a lot on volunteer fire departments. Our crews may be tied up and can't get to a wild land fire right as it's called in.  Or it may be small and a volunteer fire department can get the small fire, which frees up our crews to get to a larger fire," said Kitchings, who's a public outreach forester.

"We have roughly 3000 or 3500 wild land fires a year in Mississippi," he said.

Mike Gray is a Wiggins volunteer who's also trained by the forestry commission to battle wild land fires. He said there's a big difference in the gear used to fight house fires versus woods fires. Standard turnout gear is bulky and thick.

"Structure fire, a lot of times the temperature can get to 12 or 13 hundred degrees around the ceiling. If you're outside in a wild land fire you're not going to be around that much temperature unless you're in an entrapment situation," said Gray.

Wild land firefighting gear also allows for more mobility.

"So it's a lot easier to move. Sometimes you have to walk three or four miles to get to a fire. Structure fire, you pull up on the engine, you jump off, and you go right to the fire," said Gray.

Each set of new gear costs $250. Funding comes from federal grant money. The volunteer fire departments receiving the gear include departments from Stone, George, Pearl River and Jackson counties.

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