When fire breaks out, minutes can mean the difference between life and death or whether a structure is destroyed or only damaged. Bay County is planning to dramatically reduce fire response times, thanks to a grant from the U. S. Department of Homeland Security.
The county has received $449,988 under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program. The purpose of the SAFER program is to provide funding directly to fire departments in order to help them increase the number of trained firefighters.
The county will hire six new firefighters and assign them to Bear Creek – Youngstown Station 11. The station has been staffed with volunteer firefighters and has never had career firefighters assigned to it.
Chief Mark Bowen said more firefighters will provide better coverage in the extreme northern section of the county, where response can take 20 minutes or longer. "This will allow us to put a career firefighter in an apparatus headed out into Bear Creek, Youngstown or toward Fountain much more rapidly," said Bowen. "Twenty minutes could literally become five minutes or less."
"Adding the six people up there would allow us to put at least an initial attack team on scene," said Benjamin Collier, a firefighter assigned to the Bayou George station that currently responds to fires on the northern areas. "It's physically impossible for us to make it to Fountain or Youngstown in what could be considered a timely manner from our location now."
Chief Bowen said the additional manpower will raise the county's overall staffing level from 16 firefighters per day to 18. "It will be helpful for the county fire service as a whole," said Bowen. "It allows us when we have a structure fire to simply put more people on that scene and that makes things go a lot more smoothly, a lot safer."
The increased staffing is also expected to have a positive effect on homeowners' insurance rates. Better fire protection means lower rates, Bowen said.