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Volunteer pay marks a first for Mayor Shell

By Staff
To the editor:
Just so we don't soon forget, I want to remind the citizens of Atmore that Howard Shell has historically been very anti-anything for the fire department, so it comes as a surprise that he allowed pay for volunteer firemen at the last council meeting.
One of the first moves he made when he became mayor in 1986 was to cut out pay for volunteer firemen, which was $3 a call, $3 per hour. Back then, we had one of the best departments in the state with 21 volunteers and 14 full-time men plus a ladies auxiliary. Mr. Shell often pointed out that a volunteer should be "volunteer." No pay! Of course, our volunteer department quickly dropped to four volunteers and the full-time staff was reduced to 11.
Not long after that, Howard forced Fire Chief Charlie Rutherford to move from the apartment that was built for the fire chief when the city hall was completed in 1967. This, of course, reduced the immediate manpower available for instant response with the exception of the rescue van. Of course, the van was purchased without input from Chief Rutherford and still, to this day, is not a safe vehicle for the job it has to do. Let's not forget how he (Shell) would not allow rescue scuba-diving equipment that was purchased by the local community to be a part of the department. The list goes on and on.
Mayor Patricia McKenzie worked hard to bring Atmore's fire rating down to a class 4 by helping the Utilities Board get grants to improve and expand our water system. She purchased much needed fire equipment including the ladder truck, all of which saved homeowners and businesses several hundreds of thousands of dollars on insurance premiums. It was not until the Owens' administration that a new pumper was purchased along with turn-out gear, replacement hose, new pagers and much needed pay step increases for the firemen.
Currently, only three of the four pumpers we have will pass certification and the ladder truck is no longer usable. Two of the four pumpers are 25 years old or older and the two tankers have been removed from service.
Howard, your record speaks for itself. Let's all hope that you really have changed and will continue to make much needed improvements to our fire department. Hopefully, history won't repeat itself through you again.
Jerry Gehman