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Firefighters from Houlka, Houston, Thorn, Southeast, Woodland, Rhodes Chapel and Okolona departments recently participated in the Mississippi Fire Academy four hour “Operating Emergency Vehicles -- Annual Refresher Course.”

HOUSTON -- When firefighters show up at the scene of a fire it will be as quickly as possible, possibly in predawn blackness, perhaps after driving unfamiliar roads through unfamiliar territory -- sometimes while driving a 30 ton, 30 ft. long pumper truck.

It’s no accident -- so to speak -- they got there as soon as they did.

No one remembers the last time a fire engine was involved in an accident on the way to a fire.

To keep that high level of performance, firefighters 21 and older from Houlka, Houston, Thorn, Southeast, Woodland, Rhodes Chapel and Okolona departments recently participated in the Mississippi Fire Academy four hour “Operating Emergency Vehicles -- Annual Refresher Course.”

The training is legally required every three years by Chickasaw County and designed to insure that firefighters arrive on scene to help solve a problem, not become one by having a wreck as they’re responding.

Last year’s training wasn’t held due to the Covid-19 concerns. Those who should have certified that year were granted an extension, Houston Fire Chief and County Fire Coordinator Jonathan Blankenship said this week.

This year’s course was taught by Fire Service Instructor Mitchell Slaughter, a full time Houston firefighter, per terms of a contract between him and Chickasaw County.

The certification course had two phases: firefighters needing to certify, or re-certify, got credit for completing the one-night classroom course in March at either the Houston Fire Department or Okolona Volunteer Fire Department.

The classroom course covered rules of the road and basic safety.

Then Saturday, March 27, firefighters who completed the classroom work qualified to attend the one-day road driving course in Van Vleet, and learn to operate a pumper truck safely.

Houston’s pumper truck can take on 1,000 gallons of water at 8 lbs. per gallon. That increased weight of 8,000 lbs. can make a fully laden vehicle far more difficult to maneuver and stop than a smaller, lighter vehicle.

“The driving course stressed safety as an absolute number one priority, and also sought to develop drivers’ confidence in their ability to drive and operate those trucks in a safe manner,” the fire chief said.

“For those who have never done it, it’s overwhelming to be behind the wheel of a vehicle far larger than what they’re used to. It takes practice to be comfortable operating that size vehicle, and drivers have to understand the responsibility placed on them being behind the wheel of an emergency vehicle,” Blankenship said.

Chief Blankenship, who took his recertification training two years ago, said there were no fire calls during the classroom or driving stages of the course.

Had there been, “Those members feel proud and privileged to serve the community. They would have stopped what doing and responded to that call.”

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