DeSoto County is one of Mississippi's fastest-growing counties and to keep up with the demand for fire protection of that growing population base active recruitment of volunteers for the county's volunteer fire departments is under way.
DeSoto County has embarked upon a Volunteer Recruitment and Retention Program which will utilize a point system to recruit, promote and elevate the status of firefighters within the program.
The DeSoto County Board of Supervisors has appropriated more than $200,000 to be used by the county's volunteer fire departments as incentives to recruit and improve firefighter training and credentials.
Each volunteer fire department in DeSoto County gets approximately $25,000 each. Up to a quarter mill on the property tax rate is dedicated to fire service protection in DeSoto County.
DeSoto County Emergency Management Agency Director Bobby Storey and Deputy Director Josh Harper briefed DeSoto County Supervisors on the one-year pilot program at last Monday's Board of Supervisors meeting.
Several of the volunteer fire departments have an OUTREACH program, including the Love Volunteer Fire Department which is currently recruiting to improve its daytime response.
"We wanted to get some firefighters to work days," Storey said. "We have firefighters who are able to work at night. These are programs designed to help the local fire chiefs think outside the box. I like people who think outside the box."
The OUTREACH Program allows volunteer firefighters to take residency at the fire station, while obtaining a higher education. In return, the student will commit to volunteering and responding to emergency calls for an established time and shift.
The length of the outreach program can be for one semester and up to two years, depending upon the level of commitment and time to obtain a skill, trait or degree.
Many classes and degrees can be earned online, while others will require night courses and some will call for an extended period at the Mississippi Fire Academy.
The Alphaba-Cockrum, Ingrams Mill or ACI Volunteer Fire Department, will use their department's allocation for recruitment and retention in the form of a point system and will award points to firefighters determined by response time, training, duty and other factors.
The Eudora Volunteer Fire Department is matching the money provided to them by the Board of Supervisors and will pay for college tuition and other incentives. Eudora currently utilizes the point system for volunteers through the SAFER grant program.
Lewisburg, Bridgetown, Fairhaven and Walls volunteer fire departments also have similar programs.
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.