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Derby-White Sand Fire Department receives equipment

The Derby-White Sand Volunteer Fire Department received equipment on Wednesday from the Mississippi Forestry Commission as part of a grant through the United States Forestry Commission.

Todd Matthews of the Mississippi Forestry Commission said the first round of the grant was for $250,000, and was distributed among 36 volunteer fire departments statewide.

“Each department received equipment that will help outfit them to deal with wildland fires. These guys were having to go out to these wildland fires in full gear, which is heavy and hot. Regular equipment is not made for dealing with grass fires,” Matthews said.

The equipment received by the Derby-White Sand department included hardhats, gloves, goggles, fire flaps, head lamps, fire rakes and fire shelters, which are used by firefighters who become trapped by fires.

“The firemen carry these shelters so if they are threatened, they can quickly and easily set them up, and it will protect them if they can’t get out of the fire,” Matthews said.

The new gear also included Nomex clothing. Nomex is a lighter type of clothing that makes it easier for firemen to withstand hotter temperatures.

Matthews said other departments throughout the county have applied for future rounds of the grant. Recipients of this and future grants will also be given the opportunity to take wildfire training courses through distance learning.

“The training is not paid for by the grant, but the opportunity is still there for them to take these courses… Wildfires are a big problem in south Mississippi. Pearl River County is the hottest county in the southeaster part of the state, maybe even in the state, as far as wildfires go. And March is the hottest month, because when the winds pick up, the fires pick up,” Matthews said.

Matthews said the number one cause of wildfires is arson, and encouraged people with information about arson-related cases or wanting to report a wildfire to call the Mississippi Forestry Commission at 1-800-240-5161. Matthews said a $2,500 reward is offered for information about arson-related cases.

Pearl River County Fire Marshall Albert Lee said the new equipment will be very beneficial to the department.

“It takes about $6,000 per man to suit up for a structure fire, so the grant money for this equipment goes a long way… We had a total of 16 reported wildfires last year, and that doesn’t account for the ones that are small for which no reports are made,” Lee said.

Lee said fighting a wildfire is very different than fighting a structural fire and many firefighters may not be as well-trained for fighting wildfires as they are for fighting the structural fires.

Derby-White Sand Fire Chief James H. Knight said the department is in dire need of the equipment.

“This means a lot to the department as far as the help in getting the equipment. The department relies on stuff like this to build up safety. If it wasn’t for grants like these, all we would have would be a truck, a hose and a few people to work the fires,” Knight said.

Knight said the Derby-White Sand department currently has an active roster of approximately 20 members, but is always looking for more volunteers, as are all the volunteer fire departments in the county.

Lee said any person interested in volunteering as a firefighter may call the county Emergency Operations Center at (601) 795-3058, and ask for him or Carolyn Nelson for more information about becoming a volunteer firefighter.