CHIEF JOHN POPE III | Guest columnist
Fire chief, Collins, Miss., Fire Department
President, Mississippi Fire Fighter’s Association
Chief Pope is a 17-year veteran of the municipal fire service. He has served as an instructor chief at Louisiana State University’s Fire and Emergency Training Center and as a staff instructor at Mississippi State Fire Academy. He is well known as a leading expert in large-scale flammable liquids, and industrial fire fighting and foam response.
The fire service has always been an integral part of any community. Since the founding of this country, the fire service has played a vital role in the protection of lives and property, and continues to meet the needs of our ever-changing communities.
Today’s fire departments no longer only provide fire suppression services. Our duties now include EMS, hazmat and technical rescue, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many departments expand services to meet the critical needs specific to their community. In today’s economic climate, many fire departments have been forced to “think outside the box” in finding ways to implement or expand these services.
One example that faced my own department was the requirement to expand in the areas of industrial firefighting and advanced hazardous materials response. To meet these needs, we forged public/private partnerships with local industry leaders. Those partnerships were integral in meeting the funding, assets and specialized training needs to ensure our department could respond to these specialized incidents. The companies were very receptive to the ideas that we presented. Our goal was to ensure the safety of our citizens and the protection of the partner’s facilities and products.
Colonial Pipeline Inc., Chevron Products USA and Kinder Morgan/Plantation Pipeline were three of the companies that supported the development of these efforts early on. The city of Collins, a small municipality located in southeast Mississippi, is home to many of the largest bulk petroleum fuel storage facilities in the country. Protecting these facilities is the responsibility of the Collins Fire Department, a combination department comprised of paid and volunteer personnel.
Protecting such facilities would be overwhelming to many municipal departments. Most have little or no equipment or training to combat such fires or the emergencies that can take place at these types of locations. Early on, our department decided that meeting status-quot was not an option. We set out to establish a specialized team to respond to large-scale, flammable liquid fire and spill incidents.
A detailed plan was developed to determine specific needs for each facility in our jurisdiction. Equipment needs, training and additional resources were prioritized to implement the plan in phases. All funding for the required specialized equipment and associated resources were provided through our industry partners with no additional burden on the local taxpayers. This exhibited the desire of our local industries to be a part of the community and to meet the need to protect it.
Within the last five years, the Collins Fire Department has been able to acquire the largest cache of industrial firefighting equipment and firefighting foam in operation by a municipal fire department in the state of Mississippi.
Shortly after the creation of the team and acquisition of equipment, both were put to the ultimate test. The call received was not in our own jurisdiction, but three counties away. The Brookhaven Fire Department made a call to request assistance with a large fire at an industrial facility. Local firefighters had battled the blaze for almost six hours, but had been unable to contain the fire.
Collins Fire Department responded with one of our specialized fire attack trailers and a team of four firefighters. Upon arrival the local fire chief briefed us on the situation and a new attack plan was established. Within one hour of our unit’s arrival, the fire was contained and fully extinguished. This incident shows how a local protection project quickly became a regional asset. To date the specialized team and equipment have responded to numerous incidents, both in and out of our jurisdiction. We have developed our plans and equipment compliment so that we may not only protect our local jurisdiction, but render assistance to other jurisdictions as well. If attempted solely by our municipality, this project could not have been accomplished; however, with the cooperation of our local industry working hand in hand with the department, the original goals were far exceeded.
This is only one example of meeting a specific need in a local community. Every department must take a close look at its jurisdiction and determine if there are unique needs that are not being met. This can be accomplished through a risk analysis survey, which should involve looking at all areas of a community. Once any specific need not being addressed has been determined, then is the time to formulate a plan of action. A community’s protection needs are ever changing; therefore, our planning should always reflect those changing needs.
Each municipality and department will face its own challenges, both large and small. Through creative thinking and problem solving, these challenges can be overcome. Meeting the protection needs of our citizens, businesses and industry should always be a top priority.