Removal of Forestry Department Office in Greene County creates problems for volunteer fire departments

 

Members of various Greene County Volunteer Fire Departments gather at Forkland Town Hall to discuss the problems they are facing with the closure of the State Forestry Commission Office in the county.

 

 

Volunteer fire fighters from 12 of Greene County’s 13 Volunteer Fire Departments met at the Forkland Town Hall on Tuesday, September 21st for their regular monthly meeting.

This meeting, however, was different in that there were several representatives from the Alabama Forestry Commission present to talk to the local fire fighters about the closure of their  office in Greene County.

As of July 1, 2010 there was no State Forestry Commission Office in Greene County.

This created a serious problem should a woods fire break out.

Rep. Greg Woods from the Alabama Forestry Commission was present at Tuesday night’s meeting to talk to the various volunteer fire fighters and advise them what they could expect from the state association.

“If you have a forest fire in Greene County, just call us. We will respond,” said Woods.

However, the response time from out-of-county units is at least one hour and perhaps more.

Local units can and do respond, but lack the equipment to effectively and safely fight woods fires.

Local Association President William Johnson told those assembled about a woods fire several years ago that local units tried to contain.

“The truck got out in the woods,” said Johnson, “and melted to the ground – melted to nothing.

“I am not going to ask these people (pointing to the assembled firefighters) to take these new trucks into the woods. Our trucks are for home fires. I’m not going to tell anyone to go into the woods and get burned up.”

Johnson and members of the Volunteer Fire Association asked Woods and other state officials present why the state chose to close their Greene County office.

They were told that the state had a $5 million shortfall and closed several small offices, including those in Greene, Lawrence, Marshall, Fayette and Lee  counties.

Volunteer firefighter Scott Hardy asked why out of 67 counties was Greene County chosen to lose their local forestry commission.

“It’s political,” replied Johnson. “When we got out and fought over the bingo issue, that did it.”

“We literally pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps when we got bingo here,” he said.

Johnson went on to discuss what all Governor Bob Riley had done when he raided Greenetrack and removed the bingo machines. “Ninety-two scholarships  that were being paid for with bingo money were lost with the closure of electronic bingo. Our unemployment rate was less than 9% before the raid on bingo. Today it is 18% or over. This is getting out of hand.

“We have a governor who thinks he is above anybody. He sent a squad in here and paid over $1 million for them to remain two days.

“We were doing really well. If  we run today, we’re going to have to run all our lives.”

Johnson also discussed the loss of money to fund E-911. Iris Sermon, director of the Greene County E-911 facility, told the group that the program had been operating since 2004 “Now as of September 30, I have lost 1/4 of my funding. As of October 1, I will be losing staff.”

Sermon asked that each fire department  get with the association and make a list of what they would like to have from E-911 when a fire does occur.

Firefighter Percy Nixon adamantly said, “Without the Forestry Commission, we are lost. We can’t put  a truck across a ditch. We need the Forestry Commission. Without them, we are handicapped.”

The state representatives present promised to give Greene County all the help they possibly could give. However, the time element will always be a problem. Local units simply do not have the equipment required to fight a forest fire. Forest fires threaten not only the timber itself but homes and people living near or in the forest and local units literally can’t do much about that.

One official remarked that there was one thing everyone needed to remember – that the Forest Service was there to protect life and property. “If wood burns up, it will come back,” he said.

Scott Hardy spoke up again and asked just how much money had been saved by closing the six Forestry offices. The only answer he got was that the Forestry Commission was $5 million short. “Doesn’t the law say we have a right to see the books?” asked Johnson.

At the end of the meeting, local departments had no real answer to their problems other than the State Forestry Commission will help them all they can in times of need, but there wasn’t much anyone can do about the time required for that help to arrive.

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