VELMA – Yalobusha County’s emergency services are looking for a few good volunteers.
Monday night there were ten people present at a meeting of the Velma Volunteer Fire Department and only one was a new, young recruit about to start his training. It’s about the same at all the stations, according to Frank Hyde, Fire coordinator for Yalobusha County.
“The trouble is that we aren’t having many newcomers,” Hyde said. “It takes a special person because you are driving your own personal vehicle at your expense. And, you’re sometimes getting up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.”
Hyde’s job is to oversee the 150 to 200 volunteers who work out of the seven volunteer fire departments spread over the county. They are: Skuna Valley, Clear Springs, Sylva Rena, Velma, Pine Valley, Tillatoba, and O’tuckalofa.
The county volunteers also work with the three city fire departments, Water Valley, Coffeeville, and Oakland. At least two of the volunteer departments are called out for structure fires in the metropolitan areas. “We all work together,” Hyde said.
Unlike full-time firemen, volunteers don’t have to go through the state fire academy for training. But, Hyde said it is mandatory that volunteers become certified fireman before they are allowed to go inside a structure fire.
The certification course is 48 hours, according to Hyde. “We teach 40 hours here in the county, but then you have to go to Jackson to the fire academy to do final testing before you are issued your certification.”
The county fire program began in the mid-1980s and the older group is getting to where they can’t do what they used to, according to Hyde.
“Like me, it’s getting to a point where it’s harder to pull those hoses than it used to be,” said Hyde who is just past his mid-50’s and volunteers at Sylva Rena. “I’m the old guy out there. But, I’ve got some that hang with me who are about my age.”
For example, Hyde spoke highly of “old-timer” Larry Lawler at Sylva Rena who doesn’t fight fires, but gets the truck to the scene and operates the apparatus. “That keeps a firefighter from having to worry about the truck,” Hyde said.
Velma Fire Chief Herbie Rogers has been around for a while, but those who know him said he could keep up just about anyone. Along with his position as chief, Rogers has served as a volunteer emergency medical responder for the past several years.
While Water Valley Fire Chief Mike Defer said that “young is good,” he also agreed there are plenty of other jobs people can do. Defer currently has about 15 to 18 volunteers, but said he can use more.
Professional fire fighter Stewart Spence serves as a volunteer at Velma when he is off duty from his job with the Southaven Fire Department. Spence said the job is very important and said more young people need to join the volunteers. “One problem is a lot of them are away at school,” he said.
Coffeeville Fire Chief Mack Burns is also looking for people who want an “opportunity to serve our community.” Burns, who said he gets a lot of satisfaction from the job, is a third generation firefighter. His grandfather and father were firefighters. “I could hardly wait until I turned 18 to join the department.”
Hyde said that in many cases volunteering is a family affair. “It’s kind of like ‘hand me down’. Their parents are volunteers. That’s where we’re getting some of the new generation.”
Anyone who would like to know more about volunteering is welcome to call, Hyde added. His number is 457-4728 during the day and 473-3975 in the evening.