Fire agencies rely more on teamwork during tough economy

STONE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - There's always been cooperation among the various agencies that battle wildfires in South Mississippi. But in these tough economic times, that cooperation is critical.  Budget belt-tightening means firefighters doing more with less.

For example, in Jackson and Hancock counties, the Mississippi Forestry Commission is making do with one less two-person crew in each county compared to just a few years ago.

Tuesday, we caught up with a U.S. Forest Service team as they were preparing for a 460 acre burn in Stone County.

"So, there's a lot of different things out there to pay attention to," said the team leader, as she briefed her fellow firefighters prior to a prescribed burn.

"Eddie, you're going to be up on this 407-B," said the team leader, "One go the other way. Once you have enough black, you can pull that."

On this burn, the entire team is federal:  The U.S. Forest Service. But members of this fire crew could be called upon at any time to assist the state Forestry Commission or local fire agencies.

"These days in particular, the economic times, the sharing of resources and partnering up and working together is important from an economic standpoint. But it's also important because there's just a variety of entities down here," said Don Neal, the fire staff officer for the southern district of the U.S. Forest Service.

Many of those entities face ever-tightening budgets. The various agencies have long had cooperative agreements in place, calling on one another for help as needed.  During tough economic times such cooperation is critical.

"Everybody works together. It doesn't matter which patch you have on your arm or what agency you're with. It's one team with one objective. To protect communities from wildfires, protect property from wildfires and protect resources from wildfires and the damage it can cause," said Rick Lint, the deputy forest supervisor with the U.S. Forest Service.

One of the best examples of that teamwork happened last year when firefighters from federal, state and local agencies worked together to battle large wildfires in Ocean Springs and Gautier.

"We sent several folks down for several days. Helicopters. Some dozers," said Neal.

"Makes total sense for what we need to do as far as working together, trying to stretch those dollars and keep the community safe," added Lint.

WLOX News spoke with Randy Wilson, the Gulfport area forester with the Mississippi Forestry Commission. He said budget cutbacks have posed a challenge and the cooperation, like working with the U.S. Forest Service, means they can get a lot more accomplished. 

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