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Fire Department Enters New Era


Firemen Cody Mustard (left) and Charlie Dettor (right) apply a fresh coat of paint on a fire hydrant on Market Street Monday morning. Fire Chief Mark McGavock reported all of the hydrants will be painted this summer.

WATER VALLEY – All radio traffic for law enforcement, fire and medical calls in the county now flows through one dispatch center after the Water Valley Police Department switched to county dispatchers last Wednesday. The change comes after Water Valley aldermen voted to contract with the county to provide dispatching for the police department at a cost of $70,500 annually.

“We made the switch at 8 a.m. last Wednesday,” Sheriff Lance Humphreys reported. “Everything is running smooth.”

The sheriff reported that with two dispatchers on duty at all times, his department can absorb the increased call volume. The county also dispatches the Coffeeville and Oakland police departments, EMS calls and all fire departments in the county. 

The decision to eliminate the city dispatching follows discussion that surfaced last September after former fire chief Sherman Gooch submitted his resignation and Water Valley aldermen discussed longstanding problems in the fire and police department that stemmed from using fire fighters to also serve as dispatchers. During that meeting aldermen instructed Mayor Donald Gray to consult with supervisors to see if an agreement could be reached between the entities.

In October Gray reported that an agreement had been reached, and that even with paying the county $70,500 annually, the city would still save money.  Also during that October meeting, Humphreys told aldermen the revenue from the city would allow his department to boost the current pay rate for his dispatchers, a move that would help make the pay scale more comparable to neighboring counties and help retain competent dispatchers to better serve the entire county. 

Fire Chief Mark McGavock, who was hired after Gooch left the department, told the Herald the change will be a big boost for his department, both for recruiting and retaining fire fighters. Like his predecessor, McGavock noted that hiring firefighters who also are required to work as dispatchers was a hard sale. Currently the longest serving fire fighter on his department has only been there two years.

“There are very few departments anywhere who use firefighters for dispatchers,” McGavock explained. “My goal is to get some more firemen working. You can go to any thriving city in the United States and they have a thriving fire department.”

McGavock reported that the department currently has three certified fire fighters, including the chief, and four non-certified employees. “By October I will have two more certified, we are making progress.”

With the dispatching change two fire fighters are now able to respond to a fire call. Prior to last Wednesday, one fire fighter would respond as the other fireman on duty was dispatching

“I need more than that, but it beats one,” McGavock added. 

The chief also stressed that volunteers will continue to play a key role for his department. 

“Without them, we are nothing. One of those buildings downtown calls for 20 firefighters,” he explained about a worse-case scenario.

A New Era For The Department

With dispatching duties eliminated, McGavock said his crew will have more time for training and details. He has a long to-do list that includes a six-week detail to paint all of the fire hydrants, ensuring that they are color coded to mark the appropriate water pressure at each hydrant. The list also includes pre-planning fire fighting strategies in specific buildings, which includes mapping out details for each commercial building in the city. McGavock also said fire prevention will be a priority, an effort that includes inspections, investigations, smoke detector programs and public education.

“Hopefully we will be going to the schools for fire prevention week and reaching out to the public on fire extinguisher classes,” he explained.

Another top priority will be refurbishing the former National Guard armory building on Wise Street to house the police and fire departments. In March, McGavock pitched an idea to aldermen to repurpose the 3,700 square foot building at a projected cost of $74,000. 

His plan showed the proposed design to add classrooms, supply rooms and interrogation rooms in the middle of the building, as well as sleeping quarters for the firemen, who work 24-hour shifts. His plan also included utilizing city workers from the fire department and other departments for the work.

Aldermen tentatively voiced favor for the plan and are currently researching any legal issues involving using city workers for the job.

Both the fire and police departments are currently located in a house that was retrofitted for the departments. During the discussion aldermen noted the house is too small, dilapidated and has mildew and mold in the sleeping quarters. 

“My guys are chomping at the bits to get started, morale couldn’t be higher,” McGavock added. 

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