Six Shelby County volunteer fire departments unify to form the First Battalion of Shelby County

By GINNY COOPER / Staff Writer

BRIERFIELD—Six volunteer fire departments in Shelby County have unified their emergency response team into the First Battalion of Shelby County.

The idea came several years ago, Brierfield Fire Chief Spruce McRee said, as a response to a series of church fires that occurred in February 2006 in south Shelby County.

“Before that, there was a ‘you don’t come into my room, I don’t come into your room’ mentality,” McRee said.

Another inspiring factor in the cooperative effort, McRee noted, is the decline in volunteer fire fighters.

“Eighty-five percent of the U.S. is protected by volunteer fire departments, but we’re experiencing a drastic decline in volunteer firemen,” he said.

In the new effort, the fire departments for Brierfield, County 17 in Maylene, Montevallo, Pea Ridge and West Shelby have all joined forces to provide a unified response. This way, McRee explained, there are more resources and manpower for every emergency.

So far, 2014 has seen a record number of fires with six working fires in the first half of the month, and the new effort has “proven to be a godsend,” McRee said.

“It’s better for the firefighters, too. If you’re short handed, that’s when people get fatigued, make mistakes and get hurt,” he added.

In the future, McRee hopes to spread the First Battalion of Shelby County’s model to other rural areas.

“We’re hoping to set a model for the rest of the county,” he said. “Once we get the kinks worked out.”