May 3, 2024

Pearl Fire Department recruiting, hiring, continuing traditions of excellence

Therese Apel

Smoke Divers from Pearl Fire Department's B Shift hold a flag donated to the department by MSFA.

As seen in the Rankin County News

Every area fire department, whether it’s career or volunteer, has its own distinct personality.

Pearl Fire Department is the veteran in the corner that doesn’t talk much, but when the time comes to handle business, he’s the guy you want on your side. 

The Pearl Fire Department was established in 1975, two years after the city was incorporated. 

“It started back early on in the department with a good vision, and then the leadership throughout the years has continued on that vision of allowing their guys to learn their trade and do their job without micromanaging,” said Chief Todd Burkes. 

At its inception, the department was made up of David Haskins, Don Kennedy, Danny Wagner, and Terry Ishee. All members of the Pearl Volunteer Fire Department, they joined up and worked 12 hour shifts at first.

“We wanted to make something that was really good starting out, and we didn’t want to let people down. That was the scary part,” said Kennedy. “It was exciting too but it was something that was brand new.”

It would grow to three stations and 12 firefighters eventually, known at the time as “The Dirty Dozen.” Alderman Sammy Williams was hire number 13.

Now the department boasts 63 EMT Basics and 19 Paramedics, which is fairly uncommon for a department that doesn’t run ambulances. Of that, 57 are combat firefighters and the rest are administrative. 

“Everyone that works here is required to be EMT-Basic,” said Burkes. “But for someone to want to become a paramedic is strictly to want to give our citizens better service.”

Of Pearl’s roughly 6,000 calls per year, about 90 percent are medical. There are currently four stations, with a fifth in the works. Construction should be done mid-November, Burkes said. That will allow for the hire of another six firefighters, which will help with the workload. 

Another feather in the cap of Pearl Fire Department is that there are currently 14 active Smoke Divers, which is a designation given to firefighters who complete a grueling four-day course at the Mississippi State Fire Academy. The class is so difficult that there have been classes in which nobody finished.

“I think being a Smoke Diver is about seeing a challenge that is completely firefighter-driven and wanting to attain that challenge no matter how hard the work to prepare is and how hard the actual class may become,” Burkes said. He finished with Class 92 in March 2011.

Kennedy and Ishee were Pearl’s first Smoke Divers, and they were in the inaugural Smoke Diver Class at MSFA in 1976.

“It made us feel as though we were ready for anything. William Warren had gone to Georgia to see how they did it, and he thought we could bring that course back to Mississippi,” Kennedy said. “We were guinea pigs as to what would work and what wouldn’t, so he put us through the paces really bad. I loved every minute of it.”

Kennedy said he still relies on some of the breathing techniques he learned during that week in the first Smoke Diver class.

The course has been streamlined since then, and cut to four days, but it’s still just as tough, firefighters say.

“Part of getting through the class is to be physically fit, because you wear your gear for hours at a time, completing certain tasks pertaining to rescue and extinguishing fire,” he said. “But the biggest part is learning to work when your body is completely stressed out and learning that you can go as long as your mind will let you, not your body.”

According to MSFA, there has never been a Smoke Diver who has died as a result of disorientation in a fire.  Since 1975, Pearl has had 57 Smoke Divers, starting with the inaugural class at the academy in 1976. 

Kennedy said it would be a tough assignment to get anyone at Pearl Fire Department to brag on themselves these days, but that he would brag on them.

“I’m proud. It makes me proud to know where we started at to see where it is today. I’m happy to be part of that,” he said. “It just makes my heart feel great to be part of that. They have come a very, very, very long way.”

Pearl Fire Department is currently hiring and recruiting firefighters. If you’re interested in a career as a firefighter and you are at least 18 years old with a Mississippi driver’s license, pick up your application at Pearl Central Fire Station at 3603 Highway 80 East. 

During the application process you will need to pass a written test, a physical agility test, and an interview. 

Check PFD out on Facebook. 

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