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Andalusia Fire Department running smoothly

With Wednesday marking the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., some of the most memorable images conjured from those events involved the unity displayed by the New York City firefighters in the aftermath of chaos.

Unity, along with other necessities such as good equipment, are a major key in running an efficient fire department, and this is no different for the Andalusia Fire Department under the direction of Chief Hubert Hughes.

Hughes, an Opp native who has served as official chief of the department for more than three years, but who has actually served on the Andalusia squad since 1975, said it has been a somewhat moderate summer for his department.

"(The summer) has been about normal," said Hughes. "Our biggest time of the year (for fires) is when it's cool weather. We have more calls during that time of the year than we do at any other time for the simple reason that everybody is lighting up their heaters and fireplaces and things like that."

He noted that many of the fire calls this summer have been in response to items such as vehicle fires, noting there have not been many calls for house fires. Statistics for the summer months for the Andalusia Fire Department included:

May: Hughes said during May the department responded to 27 calls, including six house fires, seven vehicular fires, one grass fire, three false alarms and 10 special runs, which includes assisting citizens and burning

existing structures such as dilapidated houses. Twenty-five of the calls were within the city limits. Hughes also said the department also did 17 fire inspections in May and issued 25 burn permits. There were 192 overall training hours that month, said Hughes.

June: The department responded to 27 calls, including four house fires, six vehicular fires, four false alarms and 13 special runs. All of the calls were inside the city limits, said Hughes. Fourteen fire inspections were also conducted and 28 burn permits were issued. Hughes reported 201 training hours.

July: The department responded to 30 calls, including six house fires, seven vehicular fires, three grass fires, two false alarms and 11 special runs. He said 27 of the calls were from within the city limits. He said 14 inspections were conducted. Twenty one burn permits were issued. Hughes reported 204 training hours.

August: There were 26 total calls, including seven house fires, six vehicular fires, three grass fires and 10 special runs. Twenty four of the calls were within the city limits. Twenty eight inspections were conducted and 24 burn permits were issued. Some 161 training hours were reported.

Hughes said he would not attribute many of the fires from the summer to the dry conditions which have plagued many areas of south Alabama.

"Many (of the fires) have been home accidents, such as stove fires and stuff of that nature," said Hughes. "Some (of the fires) were people just being careless."

He said he has been especially pleased with the performance of his squad, which numbers 17 including Hughes, over the summer.

"I am real happy with the performance we do around here and my men are A-number 1, and I would put them up against anyone," said Hughes. "For the size department we have, (his employees) are number one."

Hughes said he does not consider the need for more employees an especially critical one at this point.

"Right now, unless things change, we are doing pretty good with what we've got," said Hughes. "But we can always use more help."

He said the department is also in very good shape in terms of overall equipment.

"My equipment is up to date as best as it's been in the last 15 years," said Hughes. "I've got my equipment to where everytime we turn around something is torn up. We have a good maintenance program here and we keep our vehicles up here, and if you (properly maintain the vehicles), you can get the life out of them and you can get 20 years out of a piece of equipment."

Hughes said his department has two trucks which dispense 1,250 gallons of water per minute and one which dispenses 1,500 gallons per minute. He said the oldest truck for the department is a 1989 model.

Hughes noted that because of the good condition of the equipment, applying for various grants has not been overly imperative.

"We pretty much take care of (equipment needs) on our own budget," said Hughes. "What we ask for we usually get, and I'm a firm believer in not spending money if you don't need something."

He said the cooperation between his department and other neighboring departments is a key to ensuring Andalusia and other parts of Covington County have adequate fire protection.

"In Covington County, we have as good of volunteer fire departments as anywhere in the state," said Hughes. "We have a program with them, so if they need us we come to them and if we need them they come to us. We just work together, and that's what it takes."

Over the next five years or so, Hughes said he would like to possibly see his department have at least one more station and perhaps four more men.

"There has been some talk here and there (about a possible new station), but you have to justify something first," said Hughes. "Right now we're doing a

good job with what we've got. In five years, though, who knows where the city will be."

Hughes, 60, said he hopes to still remain as chief for some time to come.

"I am going to stay as long as my health will let me, and as long as (the city) will let me," said Hughes. "This is just something that I have always done most of my life. I have worked here longer than I have anywhere in my whole life. This is something that I enjoy doing and it's turned out real good for me."