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Volunteer fire departments cover all of county; officials hear complaints about insurance

Some property owners who live outside the city limits are paying more for fire coverage on their homeowners insurance lately, if they’re even able to get it at all, officials said.

It’s a complaint Lincoln County Supervisor Nolan Williamson has heard more than a few times lately. Most recently, the District 3 supervisor was paying his respects at a funeral home visitation when someone complained that they couldn’t get fire coverage on their insurance and were told it was the supervisors’ fault.

Williamson doesn’t remember hearing so much backlash over insurance before. “I’ve never had anybody come to me and say that their insurance is dropped or they couldn’t get it until this year,” he said.

Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Clifford Galey, who is also the county’s fire coordinator, is contacting insurance companies to let them know that all homes in Lincoln County can be covered for fire because every household is covered by a fire department, he said.

There are 10 fire departments in Lincoln County — Zetus has three stations. Fire departments in Lincoln County are certified with ratings of either 8 or 10. The lower the rating, the better the discount is for fire insurance premiums.

Three of those departments —  East Lincoln, Ruth and Heucks Retreat — are certified as Class 10 and the other five are Class 8.

Galey said volunteer firefighters’ goals are to lower their departments’ rating whenever possible so taxpayers can get a bigger break on insurance.

According to the Mississippi State Rating Bureau, to get anything other than a Class 10, a department must meet the following:

• It must be a legally organized district with a chief

• At least four firefighters must respond on the initial alarm to structure fires

• The department must conduct three hours of training every three months

• The department must have at least one pumper that meets National Fire Protection Association standards

• The department must properly house vehicles and equipment to provide protection from the weather

• The fire department should keep detailed records of all its activities of training, equipment testing and maintenance and records of response to structure fires.

Any property over five road miles from a department does not qualify for a fire rating classification other than a Class 10.

Helping fire departments reach Class 9 or Class 8 status takes funding. “We do not get enough money to support fire protection in Lincoln County,” Galey said. “And no matter how much money we throw at it, we still have to get volunteers to help. Most stations have 20 to 35 folks listed, but only about five are available to go, especially during the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

Galey said departments are funded by donations from the public, a one mill ad valorem tax and $125,000 state fire insurance rebate, for a total of about $250,000 a year from the county and state, he said. “That won’t even buy a fire truck and it’s split eight ways by each fire department,” he said.

Fire departments have been purchasing their own trucks, borrowing money on 10- and 20-year loans. It costs between $3,000 and $3,500 to outfit a firefighter to go into a structure fire.

“We have to do the maintenance, fuel, maintain stations by paying light and water bills,” he said.

And it’s not just structure fires they respond to. When the call comes in they go — grass and wood fires, medical calls, vehicle accidents, hazardous material incidents, severe weather accidents and even cats in trees.

“If someone calls 911 and say they need the fire department, they will go,” he said.

He said departments average about 100 or more calls each per month.