The good, the bad and the especially ugly

Published 5:00 am Friday, July 7, 2000

Two stories emerged after a fire destroyed a house in theBrignall community Wednesday afternoon — a good one and a badone.

Retha and Freddie Brown, who lived at the intersection ofMadison and Howard Road, lost their home and all their possessions,with the exception of Mrs. Brown’s purse and a rug.

I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to loseeverything you own, yet Mrs. Brown tried to see the positive whenshe told our reporter: “It’s like my preacher said, ‘When someonegives you a lemon, make lemonade.'”

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She was thankful that the family’s loss was only their materialpossessions and that no one was hurt or killed in the fire.

Also counted in the good story are the neighbors who called 911,the few who used water hoses to try to contain the blaze until firetrucks arrived, and those who have pledged to help the Browns intheir time of need.

That was the good story. Now comes the bad one, and,unfortunately, I’m not sure the good outweighs the bad in thiscase.

The bad story focuses on the 50-or-so neighbors who stood aroundand did nothing as the house burned. Granted, they were neitherprofessional nor volunteer firefighters, but the few who usedgarden hoses in their futile attempt to slow the fire weren’teither.

As the flames rose, so did tempers. Many in this group thought15 minutes was not quick enough for the firefighters to arrive.When a lone volunteer firefighter arrived in his personal vehicle,the crowd focused its anger on him. So much so that he had to callfor a law enforcement back up when the crowd began cursing him.

When the first fire truck, carrying only two firefighters,arrived at the house, they didn’t encounter an unruly crowd.Sheriff’s deputies had tended to that problem. Instead they found50-or-so folks who stood around in their way. They found a crowd offolks — with the exception of one, Jerry Magee — who stood by anddid nothing as they struggled to unroll heavy water hoses and hookthem to the fire truck. Magee helped until other volunteerfirefighters arrived.

As one who’s had a hand in reporting on some of the many thingsvolunteer firefighters do, what happened in Brignall Wednesdayafternoon set me on fire (no pun intended).

These volunteers — men and women — risk their lives in effortsto help others. They give their time — and often their own money– to help keep the volunteer departments operating. Yes, they doreceive some state and county funds, but fire stations have billsto pay. They have trucks and other equipment that must bemaintained.

Most of the volunteer firefighters work full-time jobs. If theyare called away from work to a fire, that’s their personal incomethat’s lost.

While some in the Brignall crowd of 50-or-so questioned why theBrookhaven Fire Department did not respond to the fire, they shouldremember that the BFD’s first priority is to the city ofBrookhaven.

According to Brookhaven Fire Chief Paul Cartwright, a city unitwill respond to a call in the county if a fire truck is availableand if the distance is within four or five miles. The call for helpmust come from 911 or a volunteer fire department, not anindividual. Brookhaven will stay on the scene until county unitsarrive, and the county is billed $75 by the city.

Cartwright said his firefighters have also encountered theirshare of trouble.

“You’d be surprised at the cussings we get,” he said.

Other emergency personnel also often encounter unrulycitizens.

Celine Craig, ambulance service director at King’s DaughtersMedical Center, said ambulance crews are afraid to go to someplaces in Brookhaven and Lincoln County (including the Brignallarea) without law enforcement back up.

“To some people, what we do is just never good enough,” Craigsaid.

Craig also knows the importance of volunteer help. The ambulanceservice gets plenty from the county’s First Responders, who providefirst aid to patients until an ambulance crew can arrive.

“First Responders make a tremendous difference for us,” shesaid.

And — guess what?

Many of those First Responders are also volunteerfirefighters.

That means they’ve spent more of their own money and volunteeredmore of their time to learn first aid and CPR. They will leavetheir jobs and travel in their private vehicles to help someone inneed.

Like every community, there are good folks and there are badfolks in Brignall. Hopefully, one day the good folks will take backtheir communities from the bad ones.

Write to Nanette Laster at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, send faxes to 833-6714, or e-mail to’d love to hear from you.