Water shuttle tests

Water shuttle tests shoot water to simulate how much water could be delivered to a fire.

Ten miles northwest of downtown Starkville at Bell Schoolhouse Road in blistering heat, a clock is ticking.

It's a timer for the Oktibbeha County Fire Department to pump out as much water as they can in an hour. The goal is 30,000 gallons.

With eight minutes to go, the county's training officer Austin Check is hesitant to confirm they've hit their goal.

"I'll tell you in about 10 minutes," Check said.

This type of test is called a water shuttle. Firefighters drive trucks full of water, arrive to a site, dump their water in holding containers and then rush away to a filling site to start the process over again.

The idea is to simulate how much water could be pumped onto a fire if the need was there. Pragmatically, the test is an effort to improve the fire safety rating for the Bell Schoolhouse District. The rating scale runs from one, which is the best, to 10, the worst. Currently, Bell Schoolhouse's rating is a 9.

The goal for Friday's test was to lower the rating to an eight or even a seven.

District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard said lowering the safety rating would immediately impact the community.

"People will see significant insurance savings," Howard said. "This is something we've been trying to do for a very long time."

Howard said that while the Bell Schoolhouse District was able to drop the rating from a 10 to a nine last year, plans for the water shuttle test have been in the works for two years.

To judge the effectiveness of the county's water shuttle test, Ty Windham of the Mississippi State Rating Bureau was on site measuring the amount of water distributed.

Windham mirrored Howard's insight on the value of lowering the insurance rating in order to knock a significant percentage off of insurance costs.

"I don't know what it's going to be, but if it goes to an eight, that's probably another 10, 15% off, easy," Windham said.

Check agreed, noting the savings from the rating would improve people's quality of life.

"More Christmas presents under the tree, come Christmas time," Check said. "Or a family vacation they couldn't afford. It also makes the land a little more valuable. Basically, it's economic growth and a lower cost of living and a better life experience."

Windham said the reason a water shuttle test was needed is simply because of how large the districts in the county are along with how few water hydrants they have.

While insurance ratings and economic development are on the minds of many, firefighter Clay Evans was just focused on getting his truck filled as fast as possible.

Evans has worked with the Oktibbeha County Fire Department for the past three years, he's been involved with firefighting since he was 16. Now that he's 21, Evans is earning a nursing degree at the MUW in Columbus.

In Friday's blistering heat, which was already closing in on 100 degrees on the heat index by the end of the test at 10 a.m., Evans' truck for the day was an older model, one lacking air conditioning.

Still, he raced to the filling station at Oktibbeha County Lake and filled the 2,000-gallon tank in barely five minutes.

On the drive back, water sloshed around and spilled out, but Evans wasn't worried.

"When you've got 2,000 gallons, 100 falling out in the road is kind of negligible," Evans said.

He said it was so common, firefighters actually used the water as waypoints.

"One of the tricks they teach us is if you're going to a call and you don't know where it is, look for water on the turns," Evans said.

While Evans said he enjoyed his job, he admitted his focus was more on one day working in the medical field.

"Lots of people are in it for the firefighting, but I really love the medical part of what we do, which is most of what we do," Evans said.

Back at the water shuttle site, Check is running over everything with the fire crews, including one of the more comfortable looking firefighters sitting in the water maintaining the pump's hose.

There's five minutes left on the clock now. After speaking with his people, Check is all smiles.

"I was wrong," Check said. "We made it 10 minutes ago."

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