City board to close fire station

Published 11:28 am Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fire Station No. 7 on Washington Street will be closed for eight months out of the year — from Feb. 1 through Sept. 30 — beginning Feb. 1, under a resolution passed Monday by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The board voted 2-1 for the temporary closing. North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield cast the opposing vote.

The period from February through Sept. 30, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said, is normally the period of the year when fewer fires occur. He said after the resolution passed he would be willing to consider other alternatives to closing Station 7 between Monday and Feb. 1.

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City Attorney Nancy Thomas said the resolution was based on several factors: the Mississippi Fire Rating Bureau recommendation that the station can be closed without loss of coverage, only one fire truck can fit in the station and there is no other equipment there except a trailer, most of the calls the station receives are medical calls, and the station’s coverage area overlaps with Stations 8 on Halls Ferry Road and Central on Walnut Street.

In an email sent after the meeting, Flaggs called the resolution the first step in reducing unscheduled overtime in the fire department.

“I believe this resolution is a great compromise as we go forward,” he said. “It will provide oversight and accountability and allow for great service from these men and women working for the city of Vicksburg.”

Closing Station 7 as a possible solution to reducing unscheduled overtime in the fire department had been discussed previously in meetings between the board and Atkins in July, August and earlier this month.

Under the resolution, the firefighters from No. 7 will be relocated to other stations as a way to reduce unscheduled overtime and increase manpower and meet state requirements of three firefighters per truck per shift. Station 7 presently has two firefighters per shift. Currently, if a third is added, that firefighter is usually paid through unscheduled overtime, fire department officials said.

Mayfield opposed the resolution after hearing a proposal from Fire Chief Charles Atkins to idle one of the pumpers at the Central Fire Station on Walnut Street and move one firefighter per shift to No. 7 to give it three firefighters per shift for the station’s only truck instead of closing the station.

“I’m hard-pressed not to take the chief’s decision,” Mayfield said. “I would say that it’s hard for me not to listen to what the fire chief and his two assistants (say).

“The No. 1 goal is to make sure that Chief Atkins and his assistants say they feel comfortable in what they’re doing … that’s why I’m going out on a limb and not for the resolution, because I just don’t feel comfortable going against what the chief proposes.”

Closing No. 7, Atkins said, “would not serve us very well.”

“Seeing how you want to want to cut off one truck, take engine 4, which is another truck which is in the Central (station) system and shut it,” Atkins said. “Rather than moving two firefighters from one location, add one firefighter to that location and keep the truck and station open.”

Atkins admitted the majority of the station’s calls are medical calls, “but at the same time, that station, that truck, still serves in a way that the citizens would be beneficial to leave that truck where it is. We can move our people around to the point where we can supplement the situation from Central Fire Station.”

When Flaggs asked the chief why he never made the suggestion at previous meetings on fire department overtime, Atkins said the proposal was developed in meetings with his deputy chiefs and firefighters.

“You haven’t been to all the meetings I’ve been in with my people,” Atkins said. “If you don’t agree with it, you’re privilege is to vote against it.”

South Ward Alderman asked Atkins how his recommendation would reduce overtime.

“We’re going to have the same situation as far as people not staffed,” Atkins said. “And what we will have one person going out to Station 7, that territory will be covered, and then moving the men from Central and spreading them out to other stations will work as well.”

Flaggs said the resolution had been studied and evaluated and had the recommendations from the fire rating bureau and the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, which performed a study on fire station coverage for the city.

“Rather than have seven stations inefficiently staffed, I feel we can have six stations staffed more effectively until we can find some resolution or get manpower hired for the fire department,” South Ward Alderman Thompson said. “Issues don’t fix themselves. If the number of people on a shift shrinks, we have to adjust to accommodate that, also. In the meantime, I’m open to a better solution, but I feel we have to take action and move on.”

Atkins said he would work with the board, “but at the same time, I want it known and on the record that I oppose closing Station 7 at any time until we have another station open sufficient to adequately serve the people in that area.”

The board has discussed building a new station in the East Clay Street area, and has puty $1.6 million in its capital improvements budget for the project. Thomas said, however, the new station, which would also cover Interstate 20, would replace Station 6 on Cherry Street by the Warren County Courthouse.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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