By NATHAN GREGORY
Earlier this month Starkville Fire Department officially opened Station No. 5 on Reed Road.
SFD Chief Rodger Mann said the department currently has four firefighters working at the new facility, which is enough to keep it open for a 24-hour shift every three days.
“If I have more than a minimum number at Station (Nos.) 1 2 and 3 then I can take one from each one of those stations and open Station (No. 5) up. If we’ve got people on medical and educational leave and so forth, I can’t open it up,” Mann said. “The bottom line is the station will be staffed every third day for 24 hours and then from time to time the public will see the station be staffed two days in a row. It’s an extreme long shot they’ll see it staffed three days in a row.”
He said though the Starkville Board of Aldermen approved the new facility as substantially complete last June, the department still had a lot of work to do in order to get the station up and running.
“As time was working toward the building I didn’t want to hire the firefighters until I was able to put them in place. Last June the board found the funding needed to hire new personnel to staff the station. We had to take those four and get them (Emergency Management Technician) certified. That in itself takes time because we have to work within other agencies’ timelines,” he said. “We had to work within the State Fire Academy’s class schedule timeline and we get our EMTs trained out at East Mississippi (Community College), so there was a lot of juggling of schedules we had to work in. We got them out of the academy in December of this past year. That put us in a position to make headway toward getting the station opened up.”
Mann said he hoped to have more personnel to keep the station open on a more regular basis in the future. He said one possibility of that becoming reality is being accepted for a staffing grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the same organization that awarded the grant to start building the new station in 2009. He said that is the one grant which has proved to be elusive, as SFD has not been accepted for that grant despite applying for it multiple times.
“We’ve turned a grant application in for everything we can possibly turn one in for. The grants have made it possible for us to do a lot with a little. The aldermen only have X amount of dollars coming in to do all these things departments heads are asking them to do,” Mann said. “I think the board has done a very good job of prioritizing and addressing needs in every area. I think that goes overlooked sometimes. I think this board has done a very good job. Even through some very tough economic times they’ve continued to find ways to do things that are turning into big items for us.”
SFD Marshal Mark McCurdy said having the station open is one of a few puzzle pieces needed to have the Mississippi State Ratings Bureau lower the department’s rating from 5 to 4, which would lower insurance costs for residents and businesses.
“The more employees and equipment we have, the better response time we have, and bringing all that together (will help) lower the rating,” McCurdy said.
Mann said he’s pleased with having the station in operation and the department has made progress since first getting the grant three years ago.
“It had to be a shovel-ready project within 90 days, so everybody was rushing to beat a deadline and get a package put together so we could meet the deadline. The city of Starkville was in a position that we had some plans that were new enough,” Mann said. “We had an engineer on staff who was knowledgeable enough of building plans where he could work those plans to fit what we needed and we were able to pull it off. The board was able to make some things happen quickly where we were able to purchase the land within the timeline of getting the grant submitted. Several things just fell into place for us.”