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DeSoto County--Change is on the Horizon

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  • DeSoto County--Change is on the Horizon

    County agrees to work out a fire-EMS merger

    DESOTO COUNTY -- Like the mythical Phoenix, the idea of a merger of the Arcadia and DeSoto County fire-EMS services keeps rising from the ashes. The latest reincarnation of a possible merger appeared before the DeSoto County Commission last Tuesday in the form of a letter from the city council suggesting that the city and county agree to a mediation process to work out their differences on merger issues.

    "I would ask that you give me some directions as to how you would like to see staff proceed with this request," County Administrator Jim Chisholm told the board.

    After a very short-lived attempt, the most recent talks broke down abruptly last summer.

    Then on June 20, the county commission contacted the city council by letter, saying that the board was still "interested in developing a plan to integrate the city and county EMS and Fire services into one agency to deliver coordinated, efficient emergency services to our citizens."

    The city council discussed the matter and concluded that it would be "in the best interests of all concerned for the city and the county to jointly engage the services of a consultant to develop a plan and for the cost to be shared on a 50/50 basis."

    On Tuesday, Board Chairman Ronald Neads agreed with the city concerning the consultant. "Whether it be an individual or a group that is in the business of mediating, one that wouldn't show any favoritism or any partiality toward either department."

    But Neads added that he was skeptical of success, and unless everyone involved in the merger talks wanted the merger to work, it wouldn't.

    "If we don't have a full consensus of the Board of County Commissioners, then we're spinning our wheels," he said. "There's no sense wasting the taxpayers' money."

    Commissioner Bill Altman, a former city firefighter-paramedic, who initiated the ending of last summer's merger discussions, took a harder line.

    "We worked aggressively on this last year," he said, "We tried to get it done, but we didn't get it done. I made the motion to end the talks. I said at the time that I didn't want to go into anything, if any side thinks they're getting a raw deal. I haven't changed my mind not one bit."

    Altman also questioned the usefulness of a hired consultant.

    "What good is it to hire a consultant to pay him to tell us what to do, and then we're not going to do it anyway because we don't get along?" he asked.

    Altman said he did not think the time was right for a merger.

    "I make a motion that we end the talks."

    Commissioner Jerry Hill said he did not know if the city and county could ever make a merger work, but said he agreed with Neads and Altman that the board needed to be "110 percent" in favor of trying to make it work. "If we're not in the spirit to make it work, there's no need to pay the money for a consultant," Hill said.

    Commissioner Terry Welles did not mince words. "It'll come in time when the time gets here," he said. "And with that, I second Mr. Altman's motion."

    Commissioner Felton Garner weighed in on the side of not going ahead with the merger talks without a board consensus.

    "It'd just be a waste of time and money," he said.

    The Rev. Paul Matthews, of Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church, appealed to the board not to dismiss the merger process without trying a mediation process. He noted it would not be necessary to spend money on a paid consultant, and that there were individuals with mediation skills locally that would be willing to volunteer their services to try to help make the merger work.

    City resident James Sorenson told the board he served on a committee that considered a city-county merger in DeSoto County 20 years ago. "It was booted out," he recalled. "Now, 20 years later, we're looking at the same thing. Are we going to boot it out and it's going to be another 20 years?" He said the city and county should substantiate why the merger would not work, "not just throw it out."

    The board began to back off from its skepticism.

    Commissioners Hill and Welles agreed that the county ought not to give up yet.

    "Rather than just totally abandon it," said Hill, "let's see if we, as two bodies, can't sit down and work this thing out." Welles then withdrew his second to Altman's motion.

    Garner and Neads joined in the effort to jump start the discussions, both agreeing to have another go at it.

    Only Altman held firm. Asked if he wished to withdrawn his motion to stop the talks, Altman replied, "The motion stands."

    With that, Altman's motion died.

    And Chisholm got his directions: he was to contact the city council and administration and try to arrange a joint workshop for the two governing bodies to sit down face to face and talk.

    You can reach John Lawhorne at [email protected]


    Staff Writer
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  • #2
    Acquired Structure Provides Valuable SAFE Training For Departments

    Feeling the heat

    Practice burns provide valuable training

    You're 50 pounds heavier, visibility is low, and you've got a few precious minutes before everything in the room spontaneously ignites. The fire is very real, but don't worry -- this is only practice.

    "We have a lot of young guys fresh out of fire school," said Captain William Walker with DeSoto County Fire Rescue. "This is a chance for them to feel the heat."

    "The heat" was felt earlier in August at a practice burn in Nocatee held by DeSoto County Fire Rescue. The county holds practice burns in donated houses deemed safe enough to burn, according to Walker.

    The house was donated by Alfred and Cynthia King. King was an EMT volunteer for 18 years with the Nocatee fire department, and later with the county. King and his wife were planning on tearing down the house and building a new one, and decided to donate it because of "the value of having training for firefighters."

    "People don't think much of it, the amount of training that goes into it," said King.

    The preparation that goes into these practice burns is just as intense. The morning of the burn all the participating firefighters and volunteers met at Station #1, located off of Carlstrom Field Road, at 7 a.m. to check and prepare their equipment. Close to 8:15 a.m., the firefighters headed over to the site.

    Once there, more time was devoted to safety as the group, also joined by around eight members of the city fire department, laid out hoses and inspected in and around the house. A tarp was also laid out in the front yard for bunker gear and other equipment. Bunker gear, which consists of pants, a coat, a helmet and boots, weighs 15-20 pounds. Firefighters also use self-contained breathing units, which can weigh from 25-35 pounds.

    Finally, the fun began. With a little fuel and a box of matches, fire was set to one of the rooms of the house. The pattern of the day was to set small fires in certain areas of the house, so that everyone who wanted to had a chance to put out the flames.

    One of the earlier teams to go in was Jennifer Packett and Jeremiah Johnson, along with Walker. Packett led the team as they crawled into a smoke-filled room carrying a hose, with a fire raging behind a half-closed door. Walker gave some quick instruction, and in an instant, the fire was spilling out of the door on the ceiling. Packett quickly extinguished the flames.

    "It's fun," said Packett. "It can definitely be scary at times."

    One of the main points covered in fire school, Walker explained, is a condition called a "flashover" and how to prevent it. A flashover is when the fire creates flammable gases in the air. When all the gases reach a certain temperature, there's a flash and everything in the room ignites. When fighting a fire inside a building, Walker stressed the importance of cooling the air above the fire to prevent a flashover from happening.

    "If you see a fireman fighting a fire from a window, he's decided he's pretty much lost it," said Walker.

    Robert Bush, one of the firefighters with the Arcadia Fire Department, said although the fire in the practice sessions were real, there's a difference between practice and the real thing.

    "Waking up out of your sleep, you get a rush," said Bush, a six-year veteran.

    After the training sessions were over, the house was burned completely, and the firefighters main job was to protect the surrounding houses and trees from the flames that licked out, moving towards the fresh air. The heat from the burning house was so strong, it was uncomfortable to stand closer than 30 feet without bunker gear.

    "It's hard not to notice the beauty of it," admitted Lt. Duke Robinson of the county fire department. "It's fascinating."

    You can reach Jennifer Evans at [email protected].


    Staff Writer
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


    • #3
      Reporter "Shadows" Station 1 for a Day

      A day in the life

      Editor's note: The DeSoto Sun had the recent opportunity to be a "fly on the wall" for the day at the DeSoto County Fire Rescue Station #1. Staff writer Jennifer Evans followed along with a shift as they went through one of their "normal" days.

      It's 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 11, and B-shift has just taken over at DeSoto County Fire Rescue Station No. 1. Every morning, the scene is the same. The first thing the firefighters do is check and clean all the rescue equipment -- the lights and sirens on the rescue vehicles, the air masks' microphones and sensors, the medical equipment in the ambulances. Classic rock plays on the radio and everyone is focused on the task at hand.

      "Seventy to 80 percent of our job is cleaning and checking (equipment)," said paramedic Jeff Cook as he finished washing one of the engines. "Only about 20 percent is actual dispatch."

      This station houses an engine, a tanker, a SCAT (rapid response vehicle), two brush trucks and two advanced life-support ambulances.

      Inside the firehouse, Capt. William Walker and Tony Rinaldi are going over classes they will need to complete an associate's degree in fire science.

      "Education never stops," said Walker. "It's an ongoing educational process. We're (Walker and Rinaldi) headed over to the college this morning. We need to take 'Microconcepts in computing' for associates in fire science."

      The rest of the morning went the same way, each emergency worker busy cleaning and taking note of the equipment on each truck. It was hard to tell anybody was even in the station.

      A little before noon, the group started coming together again. Jeremiah Johnson, an EMT with the county, made an announcement that whoever gets promoted buys everyone a steak dinner.

      "Tony just got promoted," he added with a grin.

      From the outside, you can't help but notice how much like a family B-shift is. As lunchtime came around, everyone helped to set the table and ate together, telling stories and jokes.

      "You'd be surprised how much heat the human body can handle," Rinaldi tells me. "I've come out of a building smoking because the gear is so hot, and they had to spray me to cool it down."

      As the lunch dishes are done, the tones go off -- the first call of the shift. A woman is having a reaction to some type of drug, and in less than a minute, Cook and Johnson were headed toward the scene, with this reporter in tow. When we arrived at the house, Cook starts to question the girl. "What did you take?" "How long ago?" "What are you allergic to?" At first, she hesitated and wasn't answering, but, because of the patient way Cook spoke to her, she eventually trusted him enough to speak.

      "(She was) not in a mind frame to give me information," said Cook later. "(We wanted her to know) we don't think bad of her. People try to be defensive."

      "I like to treat everyone the same. I don't care who they are."

      Cook and Johnson took her vital signs, moved her onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. They put her on oxygen, took blood, and performed other care measures, while taking her to DeSoto Memorial Hospital.

      "The first thing you do on scene is to look around at your surroundings and make sure they're safe," said Johnson after leaving the hospital. "When you're walking up to a house, you don't know what to expect."

      After each call, the emergency workers are responsible for writing a report with patient and call information. The report gets transferred to the computer and the captain goes over them the next morning. The rest of the night, however, stayed quiet.

      Later in the afternoon, preparing for dinner -- like lunch -- everyone set the table, helped cook, and later, cleaned the kitchen together.

      "We're like family," said Tammy Baker, a firefighter with the county for 12 years. "We've all pretty much been on the same shift together."

      "I know more about these guys than my own brothers," agreed Rinaldi.

      The evening started winding down, and everyone did their own thing for a while. Some stayed inside and watched television, others went outside for a quick game of basketball, and some sat by themselves, cleaned their gear and made sure everything was in its place.

      Early the next morning, the tones went off at 7 a.m. It was a city call, so they weren't needed, but everyone stayed awake anyway. The shift ended much like it started -- washing trucks, vacuuming, cleaning dishes for the next shift.

      On the ride with the county fire department, I didn't get to see how crazy it could get. (Johnson said one night he calculated exactly how much sleep he got -- 37 minutes.) But what I did see left an impression on me. These were just regular people with families ("I have the coolest 4-year-old son," Cook said) and problems just like everyone else.

      But they are a family unto themselves, a family who bickers and laughs, and drives each other crazy. And, most importantly, they are a family who puts others before themselves on a daily basis.

      You can reach Jennifer Evans at [email protected]


      Staff Writer
      09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
      IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
      "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
      BMI Investigator
      The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


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