Chief urges program to improve community safety and fire department performance in New Albany

NEMiss.News New Albany Fire Chief, Mark Whiteside
New Albany Fire Chief, Mark Whiteside
September 7th, 2021     Featured News General News


Relative to the size of its budget and the town’s population, New Albany’s fire department has the highest rating of any fire department in northeast Mississippi.

How New Albany’s current state rating stacks up against other communities

New Albany Fire Department (NAFD) has a Rating of 4 from the Mississippi State Ratings Bureau (MSRB). Tupelo with more than four times the population also has a 4 Rating as does Oxford, with three times New Albany’s population.

MSRB rates municipal fire departments by evaluating training levels, quality and quantity of equipment, and the department’s verifiable efficiency in fighting fires and in generally providing public safety. MSRB’s highest rating is 1.

NAFD ranks higher than the fire departments of other northeast Mississippi cities of similar size to New Albany. Ripley has an MSRB rating of 6; Pontotoc, Holly Springs and Booneville each have MSRB ratings of 5.

Higher MSRB ratings (smaller numbers) translate into lower fire insurance premiums for homeowners and the owners of commercial property in the city.

New Albany Fire Chief Mark Whiteside says New Albany has achieved a high MSRB rating despite a comparatively low budget. This is thanks to years of work by many individuals, including now-retired Fire Chief Steve Coker, current Deputy Chief Mark Sides, Code Enforcement Officer Eric Thomas, all of the city’s full-time fire fighters and strong support by the city board of aldermen and mayor.

Where should New Albany go from here?

Whiteside has asked the city’s board of aldermen to take what he believes is the next step in maintaining and improving New Albany’s 4 Rating.

Appearing before the aldermen at an August 31 work session on the coming year’s municipal budget, Whiteside asked the city board to create a new position in our fire department. This would be for an officer whose full-time job would be what Whiteside called “Community Risk Reduction” (CRR).

Whiteside attended a Twin-State conference where Alabama and Mississippi fire departments received information and training about Community Risk Reduction. “We talked about how Community Risk Reduction works, and can see evidence that it works,” he said.

“A Community Risk Reduction program looks for anything – anything, not just fire – anything in the community that is a risk to the community,” Whiteside said. “A CRR program looks to identify and eliminate those risks before they become a tragic reality, before somebody gets hurt or killed”.

NAFD’s CCR leader will “spearhead the planning by becoming involved with the community through outreach programs with civic and volunteer organizations, church groups including those that work with youth and the elderly.”

The CRR leader would be a fulltime fireman as well as an inspector and inspection planner. The CRR leader, said Chief Whiteside, “would work not only with the fire department, but all other departments and employees of the city to gather information and be prepared to assist with any risk that could become a reality.”


What are MSRB fire ratings?
A non-profit corporation located in a building on Wirtz Road in Rankin County plays a key role in setting fire insurance rates throughout Mississippi. The Mississippi State Rating Bureau (MSRB), while a private organization, was authorized by state laws, starting with Senate Bill 126 on April 9, 1924. Every company writing fire insurance in Mississippi is must be an MSRB member. MSRB is governed by nine-member board of directors made up of members selected from over 600 member companies. Among other functions, MSRB rates fire departments in Mississippi as to their overall effectiveness in assuring public safety against fires and other life-threatening events. They consider factors such as the quality and quantity of equipment, amount and variety of fire-fighter training, and performance experience in fighting fires and saving lives. The ratings MSRB awards to local fire departments have a substantial and direct impact on the price of fire insurance premiums for owners of residential and commercial structures in the community. Ratings range from 10 to 1, with one being the highest and best rating a fire department can receive. Homeowners in communities with better MSRB ratings pay lower insurance premiums than people in towns with less desirable ratings.

What are the benefits and funding aspects of a CRR position?

Whiteside told the aldermen that a Community Risk Reduction program will have benefits now and as New Albany plans for its future.

Statistics show the aging population growing as baby boomers become seniors. The number of senior citizens in the U.S. will have doubled just between 2000 and 2030. Those in charge of city marketing are promoting New Albany as a retirement community, an attractive place for retirees. Older residents buy homes and improve the city tax base without adding much burden on local facilities, including the public education system. The availability of a full-service hospital and a good public safety rating make our city attractive to older residents.

“The CRR leader would work to serve the city’s needs, not just for now, but 5, 10 or even 20 years from now,” said Whiteside.

“We saw a need arise when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the area. There were a lot of issues, questions, and concerns about how our community, businesses, and citizens would be affected with reduced capacities in the buildings,” Whiteside said. This is where the risk reduction plan would have been beneficial. These numbers would be more readily available with annual visits to our larger buildings that change frequently with their inventories and how they are displayed, which would determine how much available floor space there is for the public.

A CCR Leader could help serve other community needs

“Risk reduction involves smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and how they operate, or their availability through grant-funded programs for our citizens.

“The fire department receives numerous calls regarding child restraint seats and their installation. There are organizations out there that fund a program to offer these and insure they are installed correctly, and it would be beneficial to have a representative from New Albany that is involved in this.

“There are many other benefits we could see, including spending time making sure our school age children are reached about fire safety, along with severe weather or any other threats that a child or our vulnerable adults may encounter. Part of risk reduction is public education and inspections, both of which also play a part in the insurance class rating we receive from the Mississippi State Rating Bureau”.

Whiteside told the board of aldermen the fire department would be able to fund the necessary leadership position for the Community Risk Program for a couple of years from funds available through the current fire department millage. He asked to board to authorize the position and to be ready to support it out of general funds after two full budget years.


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