Firefighters in Semmes found themselves locked out of their stations this past Monday. And that’s not only caused confusion amongst firefighters but concern from residents how the closure of the volunteer fire stations will affect response times.
“The Semmes Volunteer Fire Department owned two fire stations and Monday morning they decided to close those two fire stations,” said Kevin Brooks, Semmes Fire Chief.
The closure also meant that much of the equipment, and turn out gear for about 20 paid firefighters was locked up. Residents like Cricket Vigor sprang into action to help.
“My husband was contacted by some individuals who were in the City of Semmes fire department on shift for the the paid staff not the volunteer that they had been locked out of the volunteer station and were not allowed to use the volunteer equipment,” said Vigor.
It’s not clear why the stations were locked up, but back in September, the Semmes city councilmember voted to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to fund the volunteer fire department.
“There’s now a separation between the volunteer fire department, and the city,” said Mayor Judy Hale.
And there’s a dispute over who owns the equipment since the volunteer fire department existed before Semmes incorporated into a city and before it created its own fire department, which happened Tuesday night.
“The City of Semmes created a municipal fire department last night,” said Brooks.
He’s now the city’s first fire chief and having to sort everything out.
“It stressed us out because that was equipment we were using,” said Brooks.
Why there wasn’t a better transitional plan in place, is also unclear, neither Mayor Judy Hale nor the Volunteer Fire President Tim Hale returned our calls.
But local fire departments have been teaming up to help.
“I’m always happy to loan equipment to another department, but it saddens me that they’re reached this point that they can’t come to an agreement,” said Jeff Reeves, with Creola Fire Department.
In the meantime, the fire department is now operating out of its training center, and its other fire station, reducing the number of stations to just two for the entire city. Chief Brooks says it will take some time to adjust, and buy more equipment, but the department’s commitment has not changed.
“We’re still providing the same coverage as we have,” said Brooks.
Mayor Judy Hale was defeated in the last elections by David Backer. She has two more days left in office. State Fire Marshals are expected to have a meeting with firefighters and the city at 3:30 pm this Thursday.