Volunteer Firefighters Severely Understaffed - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Volunteer Firefighters Severely Understaffed

Tuesday night six New York firefighters arrived in Pearlington to give firefighters there a much needed break. Before Katrina, the West Hancock County Volunteer Fire Department had 34 volunteers. Two years later, that number has dwindled to less than a dozen.

Tommy Dean has been a volunteer firefighter in Pearlington for the past four years. He says it's a lot more work than it used to be.

"It's hard to get people in here," said Dean. "The more people we have, the easier it is on us."

Firefighters say since Katrina, changes in community have taken a toll on the West Hancock County Volunteer Fire Department. Many people have left and many of those who remain are busy rebuilding their lives.

Chief Kim Jones said, "They're leaving for no other reason than to get their lives together and trying to find their lives again because there's nothing happening for them. Their jobs are gone. Their homes are gone."

"Firefighting wise, what few guys we have, they're having to make every single call and that's rough on their jobs, their home life."

Right now, nine firefighters must answer every emergency within a 72-square-mile area. Fortunately, firefighters from around the country have been coming in to help take some of the pressure off.

"This manpower coming in has been absolutely astronomical," said Chief Jones. "We have six New York firefighters coming in tonight and they'll be here for about a week and a half, and in September we have some Georgia firefighters coming in. We had Pennsylvania just a couple of weeks ago. It's been great."

Firefighter Tommy Dean said, "They're really great people. If it hadn't been for them, we would have really been in a bind."

However, outside help is not a permanent fix. The department needs more local people to join.

"I think our community feels secure, but they know we're shorthanded and we've got to get some help out here," said Chief Jones.

Officials say the West Hancock County Volunteer Fire Department was recently awarded a $53,000 grant to purchase hoses, nozzles, and jaws of life. The chief says that news has been bittersweet because of the manpower shortage.

by Danielle Thomas

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