Fire Marshal: 20 Minutes Normal Volunteer Response Time

Herman Hutchinson is the only paid employee who mans Lizana Fire Station One Monday through Friday. He answers fire calls while the volunteers are at their regular jobs. At night, on weekends and holidays, the stations are closed, and the volunteers are rounded up to fight fires. "They have to leave their homes, respond to the station, open the station, crank the trucks, drive four or five miles to get there and it takes a minimum of 15 minutes to get there," says Harrison County Fire Marshal George Mixon.

When David McLemore called 9-11 last Friday afternoon to report his home was on fire, the call went to the Saucier Volunteer Fire Department, with another Lizana station providing back-up. The day after Christmas was a holiday. McLemore told WLOX News it took about 45 minutes for firefighters to arrive. Mixon says not true, it took volunteers about 20 minutes to get to McLemore's home. "That unfortunately is a reasonable amount of time. Not much comfort to the family and that's not comforting to us because we would like to get there and save more of the structure cause we hate to see anybody lose anything but it's just the facts of livin' in the rural area, you're not payin' for city services," Mixon says.

Paying for 24 hour protection like the cities provide would cost Harrison County 12 to 15 million dollars and one supervisor says it's the citizens who would get the bill for that service. "It would be a tremendous tax increase for the taxpayer. Of course, ya know, these are rural fire stations. They're manned by mostly volunteers and when folks move out there they pretty much know that it is a volunteer station and all the fires are put out by volunteers," says District 2 Supervisor Larry Benefield. Benefield says in his district alone, the county spent half a million dollars to build two new volunteer stations in the last year. He says despite the unfortunate loss of the McLemore home, Harrison County's volunteer fire service is among the best in the state.