March 10, 2017 10:56:22 AM
Property owners and renters residing within a small swath of southern Oktibbeha County now under the coverage of the District 5 Volunteer Fire Department will save money on their insurance premiums after the fire protection district's recent expansion.
About four miles of unincorporated land along Highway 25 and Old Highway 25 -- including portions of Bent Brook, Bishop, Massey and St. Mark drives and Gandy, James, McGee and Watt Hill roads -- now fall under the district's Class 7 fire rating, which was designated by the Mississippi State Ratings Bureau last year.
Property owners could see up to a 35 percent savings on their insurance premiums because of the improved designation, and residents living within the annexed territory are advised to contact their insurance provider about the potential savings.
Data from the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District shows 134 structures, including 94 residences and 10 businesses, are situated within the newly annexed area, GIS Director Toby Sanford said.
District 5 VFD Chief Terry Skinner said the process to expand took about six months to complete and included gathering signatures from supportive homeowners.
"It was a very positive experience for us, and I know those residents are happy about the insurance break. We're glad to have gotten it done for them and glad to help our neighbors. That's what we're here for," he said.
District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller, who represents a portion of the annexed District 5 VFD territory, said those who worked on the expansion are part of a remarkable group dedicated to assisting county residents.
"What a wonderful achievement," she said.
Recruitment drive ongoing
The department is continuing a recruitment drive for new firefighters this spring that will utilize a $200,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
It is seeking about 20 long-term volunteers -- those that plan to remain Oktibbeha County residents for years -- in an effort to boost its roster to about 50 firefighters.
While Skinner said about five people have signed up to serve in the past three months, Capt. Austin Check, who helped secure the grant, noted the department's big push for new recruits will come in the spring.
"We're using this time right now to measure baseline responses (to the initiative) and gauge retention," he said. "The real recruitment effort will come in the next quarter."
County volunteer firefighters differ from their full-time counterparts in Starkville. Those in the county work their own jobs and respond to emergency calls as they are available. Volunteers do not receive a salary for their service, and many are college students who are likely to move away once their stint in higher education concludes.
While the fire department will use federal funds to entice new recruits in a specific campaign, the entire county fire service is always actively seeking new members, Oktibbeha County Fire Services Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan said in December.
Currently, Oktibbeha County has about 125 active volunteers spread between its seven departments and 14 fire stations, he said.
Officials are looking for men and women at least 18 years of age to join the service. Volunteers under 21 years old are not permitted to drive fire trucks or engage in serious firefighting, like entering burning buildings, Rosenhan said. Those old enough to do so must first receive training.
Officials typically place new recruits with the closest corresponding fire department depending on their location.
For more information about joining OCFS or D5VFD, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Rosenhan at 662-435-0565.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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