Own tragedy drives Briggs’ to help others

Published 8:10 am Monday, January 30, 2017

At one time, Jerry Briggs had no idea how emergency services worked, or how many fire departments served Warren County.
Until one night in 1996, when he had an emergency.
“My house caught fire; a late night kitchen fire,” Briggs, Warren County’s fire coordinator, said. “I told my wife to get out and call 911, and I was going to go put it out. By the time I went into the kitchen to try and put it out, and got back out the front door, there’s this little truck outside with a red light on, which happened to be Chuck Tate.”
Tate, who is the county’s E911 director, was a member of the Culkin Volunteer Fire Department at the time.
“He just happened to be out late when the call came out. He goes in with a fire extinguisher and put the fire out quickly,” Briggs said. “At that time, I had no idea who comes when you call 911. I didn’t know if it was the city, the county; you expect to call 911 and a service is provided. I just assumed it would be Vicksburg, and it wasn’t. It was the Culkin and Bovina Fire departments that came.
“That intrigued me at how quickly somebody who didn’t know me, didn’t know my family, did it for free, no money, out there helping people at all hours of the night.”
Briggs didn’t give the fire service another thought that night, but several days later he drove to the Culkin Fire Station and spoke to a man who gave him an application to join.
“I got bit by the fire bug and fell in love with it,” he said. “I guess more than anything, it was the helping people.”
He moved up through the fire department’s ranks, succeeding Tate as chief in 2000. In 1996, he observed his 20th year as a volunteer. “I still work with Culkin. I work with everybody, now, but Culkin’s my home station.”
Firefighting was also responsible for his becoming a medic for American Medical Response ambulance service in Jackson.
“I was in college for criminal justice. I thought that’s the direction I wanted to take, and EMT (training) was also at Hinds (Community College), and I thought since I was a first responder … I changed my path once I finished EMT school.
“A recruiter came around in 2000, 2001, offering jobs and I figured I’d try that. In EMT class, I did some clinicals riding with ambulances, and that was intriguing to me, so I went to work with them and stayed with them for a while.”
He left AMR in 2007, to take over his father’s pressure washer sales and service business. In 2012, he became county fire coordinator, replacing Kelly Worthy who retired.
“Being chief at Culkin, I had worked closely with Kelly over the years. I figured I had something to offer and applied for it.”
The county fire coordinator serves as the liaison between the count fire departments and the board of supervisors. The county’s fire districts receive state funding, and it’s Briggs’ responsibility to ensure the money’s available to meet the needs of the county’s six volunteer fire departments.
“They don’t have anybody full-time, so if the trucks need to be taken for service, I’ll assist them in getting that done; handling day-today activity for them.”
In the past three years, he said, the county has received four new fire trucks for volunteer departments, and Fisher Ferry has built a new station on Lee Road. The county departments now have access to an ATV equipped with a fire pump for woods fires and fires in hard to reach areas.
Briggs also works with the Mississippi Insurance Rating bureau to help the volunteer departments reduce their fire insurance rating, which helps reduce a homeowner’s fire insurance.
“We went from basically no rating to three or our four protection districts are now a Class 6, Culkin, Bovina, Fisher Ferry. Fisher Ferry just recently got their class six, and what that means is up to 45 percent savings in homeowners insurance.
“The folks behind that are those firefighters at those stations that are jumping through all the hoops the state wants you to jump through to ge those ratings. It’s not on me; I didn’t do anything particular.”
Sometimes his help is more hands-on.
“I’m still a firefighter, and if I go to a fire at Eagle Lake, LeTourneau, Bovina, whatever, I’m still putting on the gear and going to fight the fire, or going to the wreck,” he said.
“I’d rather not do it, but it’s still in the blood and I’m still young enough to do it. If they need hose pulled or whatever, if they need a truck picked up, if no one’s available, I’ll stop and pickup a fire truck.”
The board of supervisors, he said, have been understanding enough to let him continue to don turnout gear and help the other departments. “Two o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the evening, I try to assist them however it needs to be done.”
Besides working with the county departments, Briggs carries on a working relationship with the Vicksburg Fire Department.
“I think over the past few years, our relationship, mine and Chief (Charles) Atkins, has really grown,” he said. “Twenty years ago, 30 years ago, it wasn’t that way, but Chief (Craig) Danczyk comes to our volunteer meetings, Chief Atkins comes to our meetings; the advantage to that is (Emergency Management director) John Elfer. He’s brought everyone together, and we’re all on the 911 commission.
“The guys in the field — the county firemen and city firemen, the city rescue guys, the city ambulance guys, they all have a great working relationship, and that’s our goal. Public safety. You shouldn’t be able to tell any difference in service if you’re in Oak Ridge or downtown Vicksburg, you should be able to get the same quality of service, the same quality of care; same everything.”
Briggs said he enjoys his job, adding, “There isn’t anything I regret.”
“I’m blessed to be where I’m at and blessed to be with the people I work for and work with the people I work with.”
He said he plans to stay on the job as long as he is able to contribute to the county fire service.
“I love my job; I love what I do, but there comes a point with everybody and the position you hold, you go flat,” he said.
“If I ever feel I have nothing else to offer and improve what we have, somebody else needs to come in. When I don’t have an goal to shoot for, there’s always somebody out there that’s got good ideas, fresh ideas.”

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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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