New Albany Gazette

Washington trip sought federal funds to help area fire department better serve public

By Hank Wiesner, Special to the Gazette

New Albany Fire Chief Mark Whiteside, who is Vice-President-at-Large with the Mississippi Fire Fighter's Association, an Adjunct Fire Instructor with the Mississippi State Fire Academy, and a member of CFSI (Congressional Fire Services Institute), termed the groups' recent trip to Washington, DC to meet with elected officials successful, he said this week.

Those groups and other organizations work together for a better Mississippi, he said.

The Congressional Fire Services Institute's goal is to educate members of Congress about fire and fire safety issues, and advocate for fire and emergency services to make sure they have the supplies and funding they need.

The groups were in Washington Sunday through Wednesday, April 28-May 1, and worked with each office there to help them understand how important their support was for the groups' success.

"The meeting with our elected officials was very successful and positive. Each one was receptive to our needs, concerns, and ideas.

"The importance of standing and being heard for all firefighters and departments in Mississippi is why this trip was imperative," Chief Whiteside said.

Representing Mississippi were fire departments from not only New Albany, but from Cleary, Collins, Greenville, Lamar County, Louisville and Reservoir.

The Mississippi Fire Services delegation was among a large group attending the Congressional Fire Service Institute dinner in Washington, D.C.

"Something important we learned is that all the other states have the same issues, problems, concerns, and hurdles we do. We are not alone in the fight," he said.

The group met with Mississippi Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, as well as Congressman Trent Kelly, who represents this area in the First Congressional District, along with other representatives from the entire state.

The group also met representatives from other fire departments across the nation including San Bernardino County, Calif, and South Tongass FD in Ketchikan, Alaska.

The purpose of meeting the state's congressional officials was "to hand them personally a list of our goals and objectives, and request their assistance to get government grants and other funding to achieve these objectives," Chief Whiteside said this week.

Those goals and objectives include funding for additional self-contained breathing apparatus for the county, "along with any other needs and ideas that are brought to our attention.

"We offer a "boots on the ground" perspective from Mississippi firefighters. Fire departments running medical calls have increased significantly over previous years, and Representative Bennie Thompson from the 2nd Congressional District spoke on the subject of emergency medical response with us.

"Representative Trent Kelly wanted to express the importance of the local fire departments having what is needed so that the residents can have better insurance ratings, which in turn saves money on insurance costs and premiums.

"New Albany has a reputation as a very progressive fire department that is always looking for better ways to serve not only its own citizens, but share ideas, knowledge, or assistance with other fire departments.

"We do anything we can to assist. The bottom line is if our needs are known, and understood, it is just fighting for the same funding that 49 other states are fighting for at the same time. The old cliché 'if you don't ask, the answer is always no,' is true. We are not afraid to ask, we just have to get there to do it.

"We've found we have a better chance of getting what we seek if we talk to these officials face to face," he said.

He added: "We've found many of our wants and needs are the same, whether it's firefighters from New Albany or the Gulf Coast.

"By meeting with these people, we're trying not to re-invent the wheel, just re-adjust it, and I take it as such an honor and privilege to wear the New Albany Fire Department dress uniform and represent the city on a national level."