Six volunteer fire stations in Shelby County combine efforts

A new way of fighting fires among Shelby County volunteer fire departments has stood the test this winter. Six departments unified their emergency response team. It is now called the First Battalion of Shelby County.

This was the brainchild of the assistant fire chief of Pea Ridge and the chief of Brierfield. It boils down to the fact that there is strength in numbers. Brierfield Fire and Rescue chief Spruce McRee says there were times when just three people would be able to respond first to a fire.

Now several volunteer teams respond at once. This winter that approach has worked best.

"I cannot remember anything like this, this busy down here before. It has just been unbelievable," said McRee.

McRee says the first Battalion of Shelby County has responded to eight fires within the past 22 days. On average, 30 firefighters have arrived on the scene at each of the last four fires. More than a year ago that would not have been the case. "Our fire department, like so many other fire departments across the country, are losing members at a fast rate," said McRee. {}{}{}

Faced with a shortage of firefighters, McRee called on five other volunteer fire departments for help. Brierfield, Montevallo, County Road 17 in Maylene, Pea Ridge, Dry Valley and West Shelby joined forces to make up the First Battalion of Shelby County.

McRee remembers a time prior to the formation of the battalion when just three firefighters were on the scene to a structural fire. "The call came in a 6:56am. I responded in my command vehicle. We had one engine respond with one man on board. We had a tanker respond with one man on board, so we showed up with people," said McRee.Prior to the cooperative effort volunteer stations would have responded to a fire, then call for help. Now all six teams are dispatched at once. That means mutual aid response to any structure fire in any of the six department's districts.

Jason Picklesimer is assistant fire chief a the pea ridge volunteer station. He says knowing more people have his back when he's out on a scene is reassuring. "It's extreme peace of mind knowing that we have additional resources coming to help the situations," said Picklesimer.

The First Battalion covers 142 square miles. That's some 91, 000 acres. They serve a population of more than 12,000 people.