MCCOMB, Miss. (WLBT) - The city of McComb recently had a spare fire truck go down. Fire Chief Gary McKenzie says it’s put the city close to crisis level if another truck malfunctions.
”Without that truck, every time we have a truck break down, we end up with a station that does not have a truck in it or we end up having to borrow a truck from another department,” McKenzie said.
City leaders are trying to help find funds to fill that need for McComb, but it’s a need that is common all over the state. Many fire departments just don’t have the money to buy needed new trucks.
Copiah County EOC Director Randle Drane says it’s an issue for all his county’s departments, even with the state’s Rural Fire Truck Acquisition Assistance funds. The national Assistance to Firefighters Grant offers a lot more money to departments that need it, but the municipality or county has to match 5% of the cost if they’re able to acquire the grant, know as AFG.
Even with that kind of match, small departments and small counties often don’t have the thousands of dollars it still takes to get a truck.
“You know we depend on the state to help us with the matching funds so we can purchase fire trucks, and that money’s just not out there,” Drane said.
A new truck may be anywhere from $300,000 up to a million dollars, depending on what kind of apparatus is needed.
“Those grants are tough, they’re very very competitive and you’re competing against fire departments all across the nation,” said McKenzie.
When grant writer, attorney and firefighter Jared Evans joined up in 2001, his department had two trucks that dated back to the 1950s. He says there are still some of those in Mississippi today.
“We’re talking about almost Korean War apparatuses in Mississippi. And you do have that quite a few places, not quite that bad, maybe, but Vietnam,” Evans said. “We’re still fighting Vietnam on some of our fire scenes.”
Evans specializes in writing AFGs. He says a lot of departments that could get the grant are convinced they won’t. He encourages them to try anyway.
“Hey, roll the dice. You have nothing to lose but a little bit of time,” he said.