Bryant Fire Department changing, innovating to serve expanding community

By Martin Couch

A four-man volunteer fire department organized in 1972 for Bryant has developed into a state-of-the-art fire station that is powered by 45 highly-trained, lined firefighters and protects the 18,000-plus residents within the city limits.[more]

“We’ve got a lot of different services we can offer, but it’s all about customer service,” said Bryant’s Battalion Chief Randy Cox. “We try to drill into our fire fighters that the public is the one who pays our salary.”

From changing light bulbs and checking on the elderly when temperatures are exceedingly hot, to being one of the first called in a structure fire, the Bryant Fire Department has proven time and again that it is the premier protector of city residents.

“This is my 32nd year in fire fighting between being a volunteer and working full time,” Cox said, who also had 25 years in the private business sector previous to his fire fighting work. “To me, it’s all about the customer. In a normal fire service, the perception from the public is that we as fire fighters sit around in recliners with our feet propped up, waiting for calls.”

That might be the case for some fire departments, which receive a high volume of structure fires, but it’s not for the hard-working fire fighters of Bryant.

“We do fire prevention in daycares and schools, check hydrants, go to businesses for inspections — we have enough work to keep us busy,” Cox said. “From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., we do vehicle maintenance stuff and get the trucks and equipment ready, then, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., we have a lot of business items and training before we start winding down after 6 p.m., every day. We try to be out in the public and be seen, so people see we are out there serving them.”

This is Cox’s 12th year as Battalion Chief in Bryant.

“Prior to that I was a volunteer here part-time and was assistant chief for 18 months before being promoted to full-time chief,” Cox said. “I started my career in the north. My dad retired as a fire chief and all my brothers were fire fighters, and my son is a full-time fire fighter for North Little Rock and lives here in Bryant. It gets in your blood and you have to go with it.”

When Cox came to Bryant 20 years ago, the insurance service was a Class 9 (the lower the number, the more inexpensive the insurance rates are for businesses coming to the area). It changed to a Class 7, then when he took over as Chief the number dropped to a Class 5. Now Bryant is at a Class 3 and Cox is hoping by the end of the year when re-evaluations are done, the insurance premiums could drop to as low as Class 2.

“What that does is bring in a lot of major retailers, because they can afford the insurance premiums,” Cox said. “There are some larger hotel chains coming in as well as a steakhouse and there are rumors of a Red Lobster — those things will help with that.”

When Cox took over as Chief, he had four full-time employees and now there are 45 line fighters split up into 15 people per shift work that is 24 hours on and 48 hours off. He has full-time training captain, a full-time assistant chief, two full-time assistants, and, of course, brave fire-fighters

“We’ve grown a lot in a short period of time and built this new facility (on Roya Lane in Bryant),” Cox said. “We’re coming up on four years in it and we’re trying to build a station on the north side of the city. With federal grants, we’ve made a lot of headway. A lot of people thought we should have gone to a 24-hour service before we did, but my thinking was that we needed to get our equipment and facilities in place before we could do that. Now we are on staff 24 hours a day, every day.”

Bryant is also one of two departments in Arkansas that has a rescue ladder platform, which is an aerial ladder truck 35 feet below grade. The truck was bought three years ago.

“Some have asked why we need a 100-foot ladder truck,” Cox said. “Now we’re getting four and five story buildings and there are plans for a seven-story building soon. We are looking to the future, plus we’ve had a lot of changes in planning rules. There are regulation zero lot lines between houses in neighborhoods and that can create a lot of problems when fighting a fire. We needed some aerial device to do things, plus it helps with the set-backs from the roadways. That’s why we have that type of apparatus.”

Other state-of-the-art items for the fire department include airpacks, thermal energy cameras that allow fire fighters to see through smoky areas, and an electronic lockbox system for businesses that cut down on forced entry damage.

Within the month, the Bryant Fire Department will go live with computers on its fire trucks to get a satellite feed. And these fire fighters are in constant training from the time they begin their service.

“On every 24-hour shift, a fire fighter has to have four hours of certified training every shift,” Cox said. “Take that to 365 days a year and there is a lot of training we require for our personnel to go though. We have rookie candidates with no training and we send them out for seven weeks to the Arkansas Fire Academy where they eat, sleep and drink fire for 40 to 45 hours a week. They train them on the do’s and don’t’s and give them the basic skills. They get another 80 hours of certification for hazardous material response then we put them in a 280-hour course for emergency certification. So there is a lot of training for them in the first year and we have a pretty major investment in them.”

This type of training gets Bryant’s fire fighters ready to handle any type of major fire or disaster.

“Any time there is any type of major fire or disaster incident in Saline County, we are usually the first called for mutual aid and currently with all 22 surrounding departments, we have those agreements,” Cox said. “That includes Benton and Little Rock.”

Bryant helps other fire departments in Alexander, Shannon Hills, East End, Collegeville, Springhill, Salem, Lake Norell and Bauxite.

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