Thursday, August 6, 2009
Town takes small step to paid firemen
By SUE WATSON
Byhalia had an all-volunteer fire department up until June 15 this year. For all intents and purposes the department is still all volunteer, but the town’s leadership hopes to eventually pay firefighters.
Chief Leland Reed, who served many years as volunteer chief of the department, is now the town’s first paid firefighter with about one-quarter of his salary going for heading the department, said Byhalia Mayor Phil Malone. The rest of his duties in the position that was created this year consists of serving as building and code enforcer, overseeing the cemetery burial plot arrangements, and helping enforce all changes involved in the town’s new 20-year plan for growth that was adopted this year.
“We had to start somewhere,” said Malone. “Leland had served countless hours over the years acting as volunteer fire chief. We created this job - something Scooter (former Mayor Dempsey) and I and the board talked about before I came to office.”
The position was justified by the mayor and board of aldermen by money in the budget that was created when the mayor’s and board of aldermen’s salaries were cut back this year by the previous mayor and board of aldermen, as well as drawing from some other savings in the budget, Malone said.
It will take years for the town to arrive at a paid fire department, he said, but this is the first step. Malone said the town’s fire rating will improve once the department becomes an all-paid one. That will help residents on their homeowner’s insurance rates in the town, he said.
Alderman Rick DeBardeleben said Byhalia is fortunate to have an outstanding volunteer force and would love to have a full-time paid fire department, but he doesn’t see that coming in the near future.
“Leland is being asked to wear many hats – fire chief, building code/zoning enforcement and permits as well as handling an overhaul of our cemetery policies and procedures,” he said. “After watching him and his volunteers until the wee hours of the morning during our recent storm, I came away impressed with his abilities.”
Reed has been a volunteer firefighter for the town of Byhalia for 25 years (since 1984) and works with 24 volunteer firefighters on the force. He also worked for 23 years with Constar Plastics in Collierville, Tenn., until the factory shut down on December 31, 2008.
Before accepting the position with the town, Reed was working as a basic driver EMT with MedStat from February 1 this year to June 15. He still drives for MedStat about two days a week to keep his medic certification current.
Reed lives in the Warsaw area with his wife and children.
He said the town holds a Class 8 fire rating inside the city limits. His goal for the long run is to get the fire rating lower to help reduce insurance rates for residents of Byhalia.
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