Volunteer fire department tries to regain trust after scandal

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

PERKINSTON, MS (WLOX) -  A South Mississippi volunteer fire department hopes an extreme makeover will help it shed its old image. In May of this year, two firefighters from the Perkinston Volunteer Fire Department, including the assistant chief, were charged with second degree arson. Now months later, a whole new department has emerged.

There are 17 brand new additions to the Perkinston Volunteer Fire Department. The firefighters say the last few months have been filled with training, training and more training.

Susan Cooper recently became a volunteer. "I believe all total since we got reorganized in September we have about 1,500 training hours. That includes working on the trucks and hose testing that we've done because we have to have all that for class eight certification. So it's been a lot of hands-on training here at the station in addition to all those classes. "

Stone County Board of Supervisors say the recent scandal made it apparent that it was time for a change at the Perkinston Volunteer Fire Department. Supervisors ordered the department be reorganized with a new chief and all.

"We had some incidents in here that had given this fire department a black eye," said Lance Pearson, Stone County Supervisor.

"We just said it was in the best interest of Stone County and District Three and Perk that we would start over fresh."

Officials say the new firefighters have been actively participating in fundraisers and other community events. They want to do everything they can to show the people of Perkinston that's things have changed. It hasn't been easy.

"With it being new, trying to recruit firefighters and to get new people to come in," said Chief Mike Gray. "Like Mr. Pearson said there were some things in the past but that's all water under the bridge."

"We're just looking to go forward right now," said Chief Gray. "You can't demand respect. We want the members of this community and the citizens to respect us, but we have to earn it. So that's one of the big challenges is earning the respect of the people here."

"Once you ever lose trust, you don't get it back over night," said Pearson. "But the community has really rallied behind this fire department."

Stone County officials say during the reorganization of the Perkinston Volunteer Fire Department the community always had fire service because other area volunteer departments shared duties in the area.