Fire prompts former Gulfport police chief to address supervisors

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A former Gulfport police chief appeared before Harrison County supervisors on Monday, discussing fire department concerns. Alan Weatherford is encouraging the county to consider staffing its fire stations 24 hours a day.

His experience watching a neighbor's house burn prompted the appearance before supervisors. The former police chief told supervisors he wasn't there to criticize the county's fire services or its volunteers. But after watching neighbor Jim Williams' house burn, Weatherford felt compelled to speak out.

The fire on Smith Road broke out June 6th shortly after 7pm. County fire departments are staffed by paid firefighters only until 5pm. The City of Long Beach Fire Department provided mutual aid and was first to arrive.

"What I'm asking y'all to do is in your budget considerations and strategic planning is that y'all look at the possibility of putting a paid firefighter at these stations for the initial fire apparatus response," said Weatherford.

County Fire Marshal Pat Sullivan says 24 hour coverage is something the county is already working toward. Finding the funding may be the biggest challenge.

"You can't pay for something if you don't have the money. So we know that's a problem, as far as paying for it. But the first step is to acknowledge that we need it and then work towards funding it," said Sullivan.

"That is a clear direction that Harrison County is headed in. That is somewhere I think we're close to. We're not far away from it. I'm not saying it will happen this budget year. But we're not far away from it," said Supervisor Windy Swetman.

Former chief Weatherford told supervisors, thankfully, the City of Long Beach was able to provide mutual assistance in this case. But he asked, what if they'd been tied-up on another call? Plus, he says with the growth in the unincorporated areas, it's time to provide 24 hour coverage.

"So, I'm asking you all today to please make that a priority and look at it," said the former police chief.

The county begins its budget meetings later this month for the next fiscal year, which starts on October first.

Copyright 2013 WLOX. All rights reserved.