January 6, 2018 9:59:02 PM
The Bell Schoolhouse Fire District's fire rating has improved from Class 10 to Class 9, and the question of who deserves credit has highlighted friction among the leadership of Oktibbeha County's fire services.
District 3 County Supervisor Marvell Howard confirmed the improvement to The Dispatch Friday morning, saying he'd received a letter from the Mississippi State Rating Bureau that formalizes the improvement. The letter, dated Dec. 19, said the Bell Schoolhouse Fire District was eligible for a Class 9 rating effect Dec. 12.
The Mississippi State Rating Bureau rates areas for fire protection on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the lowest level of protection. Improving a level can decrease fire insurance premiums for residents and businesses -- for example, fire insurance may be less expensive in a Class 9 district than a Class 10 district.
"I'm glad to see that the Bell Schoolhouse district has received a 9 rating," Howard said. "We've gone from a 10 to a 9, which will help insurance rates for people who live in that district."
The Bell Schoolhouse fire district stretches along Highway 389, from where the highway leaves northwest Starkville to around Polly Bell Road.
Word of the district's improvement comes after Howard voiced frustrations with County Fire Services Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan during supervisors' Tuesday meeting. During the meeting, he said he had spoken to Rosenhan about the Bell Schoolhouse fire district having a Class 10 fire insurance rating and questioned the coordinator's commitment to seeing the work through.
At the same meeting, supervisors reappointed Rosenhan to the fire coordinator position for two weeks. They will hold interviews to possibly replace him in the position on Jan. 16.
Rosenhan has served as Oktibbeha County's rural fire services coordinator since 1988. The county pays him $7,200 annually ($600 per month).
On Friday, Howard thanked Austin Check, a training officer with the county's volunteer departments since 2012, as well as Bell Schoolhouse Volunteer Fire Department Chief Wade Howell for their help in improving the district's fire rating.
"Kirk was aware that we were working toward trying to receive a lower rating," Howard said. "There was not very much participation or effort put into helping us get to this point from our fire coordinator."
Rosenhan told The Dispatch he felt Check is urging on Howard's recent push to possibly out him from his position.
"I don't know exactly how to respond to that," Rosenhan said. "Mr. Check has caused all sorts of grief. He's the guy that's behind all this because he wants my job, and he damn near got it last Tuesday."
Rosenhan acknowledged there's been a rift between him and Check for the five-plus years Check has been involved with rural fire services. While Rosenhan wouldn't go into specifics, he blamed the rift on poor communication.
"Mr. Check has been active in the county fire business for some time," he said. "He and I have not communicated well over that period."
Check, when asked, declined to respond directly to Rosenhan's allegation, saying he only does the work that's requested of him.
"I hate that this situation has devolved to what it is," Check said. "I don't really want to comment on Mr. Rosenhan because I haven't had a discussion with him.
"I do the work that's asked of me," he added. "All I can do is stand on that work. This is a transparent process, and I constantly keep him informed."
Still, Rosenhan said the effort to improve the Bell Schoolhouse fire district's rating, and that of other areas in the county, has been ongoing for several years. The process, he said, involved improving water supply, hardware and equipment, mapping and other aspects of fire protection. He said Howell played a crucial role in helping pave the way for the better rating.
He said he'd like to see further improvements to the district, but manpower constraints may make that difficult.
Even so, Rosenhan is pleased with the results.
"I'm delighted," he said. "This same thing has happened throughout the county. Who gets the credit for that, I'm not too worried about."
Check, likewise, said he is pleased to see the district's rating improve. He thanked Howell for his work, along with Howard for his efforts to push the process along.
He also said firefighter numbers are a challenge moving forward, but he was optimistic that the district can continue to improve its rating through the next year or so.
"Manpower's a little tight, but it's their (the firefighters') work and their dedication to the community that brought it down to Class 9," he said. "I honestly believe we can go down to a Class 8 or Class 7 in the future."
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