The Sun News

WR fire department stops blazes before they begin

Kenny Hamm
Kenny Hamm

Kenny Hamm, assistant chief with the Warner Robins Fire Department talks about fire safety education and other issues his firefighters are concerned with.

Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: Assistant chief, Administration Division, Warner Robins Fire Department

Q: What kind of year would you say 2017 was for the Warner Robins Fire Department?

A: A good one. We met the demand for calls and that’s what we’re here for. We were a little short on personnel and want to add more all along and last year we worked toward that. Mayor and council are looking at our five-year resource needs plan and we revisit personnel with each year’s budget so we’ll see what happens.

Q: Briefly, what’s some steps forward you saw as an administrator in 2017?

A: Several things. We know if a department does well in fire safety education and inspection — in prevention — it’s really an accomplishment for fire suppression. Suppression is putting fires out, and it and prevention are different divisions. But if there’s no fire because of prevention you’ve done the best possible job of handling the fire — the potential fire. I think we did a good job educating the public and reaching school students. I’ve been here 32 years in October and there are less calls now than when I started. I attribute it to better prevention. Like our smoke detector blitz. Hopefully, from here on we’ll go door-to-door twice a year in different areas giving away 10-year smoke alarms.

Q: More advances?

A: From my standpoint, 2017 was important because we got a minimum staffing policy which we never had. That means if we get hit with lots of firefighters out because of sickness, say the flu, or due to unusual training opportunities or demands we can make sure we can call in staff to cover slots. We can call on overtime pay to help make that happen. Another thing we never had and do now (that) we think is monumental comes from the city pay scale study. It got us where we should have been all along. A main thing is it helps remedy coming to the place where there was no way to move forward through the pay system. We got some cost of living raises but, for instance, a firefighter who became a lieutenant at the low end of the lieutenant pay range had no way to advance to the higher end. Eight years later he’d still be at the same basic place and a new lieutenant would make about the same thing though technically the eight-year lieutenant would have greater value in experience and skill. There was no merit. Now it’s better and, if nothing else, they feel more appreciated and see a future.

Q: On the more physical side, how was last year and how does the 2018 look?

A: We got Station 8 up and going off Ga. 96 and made headway toward a new training facility. The new special purpose local optional sales tax figures into that and paves the way for improvements at some older stations, so there’s all the good SPLOSTs do. Because of it, we’ll eventually be able to get two new pumpers to replace old ones and use the old ones as reserve trucks. We’ll be able to get a third aerial truck and station it strategically to triangulate them throughout the city. Plus, we’ll add a specialized, heavy-rescue truck. It’s the size of large trucks and has storage for safety equipment, items like jaws of death, spreaders, cutters and a whole lot more. It will also provide mobile, site-available air tank refilling so when needed we aren’t transporting tanks back and forth in an emergency. It will also play a role in our Rapid Intervention Team and safety team. Those are a few things.

Q: How is the WRFD museum coming?

A: Making progress but it’s a slow. We’re doing almost all restoration work at the Myrtle Street station ourselves and not spending a lot of money. People may not know but we do a lot of construction work ourselves within the department. Our firefighters have the skills and motivation. In the last couple of years we built storage structures at stations — we’re working on one now — and did some remodeling to the administration lobby. These projects even usually take priority over most of the museum work. Public works and the utility departments help us a lot, too.

Q: The fire department cycles through yearly projects and maintenance, can you sketch out a little of that?

A: January starts our training year and that’s really important. Each person gets a new notebook with their training goals. We’re always maintaining things and use different months for thorough inspections and repair. Like January is aerial apparatus inspections. February is pump testing and March and April we inspect hydrants. They have to be inspected once every five years but we do 25 percent every year so we’re ahead of standards on that. In May we make sure all hoses are tested. Each pumper has 1,100 feet of 5 inch supply line, 400 feet of medium supply 3 inch hose and most have 500 to 600 feet of main attack line which is an inch and a quarter. There are other hoses onboard, too. All that gets us well into the year and other things from checking small engines to putting up Christmas lights.

Q: How many stations are there and what does the suppression fleet look like?

A: Seven active stations plus the museum. In suppression, we have seven frontline pumpers and three reserve, two aerials, two brush-fire trucks with one manned one reserve, then there’s a diver truck if we need to call a in diver. Those are get-the-job-done vehicles then there are support vehicles.

Q: How many firefighters right now?

A: A hundred-five authorized firefighters and total department of 123. We’re really not heavy on chiefs versus Indians.

Q: You’ve been with the department almost 32 years, are you from Warner Robins?

A: I was born here. My dad met my mom here in the military then they moved to Indiana where he was from when I was in the first grade. I moved back here in ‘81 after I graduated high school.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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