TOOMSUBA, Miss. (WTOK) - For our 127th First Responders, we ride to Toomsuba where we find a volunteer fire department that has been going since the 1960s. One of the people that made it happen is Billy Barrett. He's still operating strong.
“I wanted to try to do something with the help of the fire department to help people in the community,” Barrett says.
Billy Barrett has spent the majority of his life right here in Toomsuba helping others. He helped create the fire service for this area and was a pioneer in helping with water shuttles. Barrett says it all began in the 1960s through tragedy.
“We had a family whose house caught on fire. The grandpa went in and tried to get a grandchild out and both of them died in the fire,” Barrett explains.
The obvious need for a fire department was there and Barrett had the determination to make it happen.
“We started having chicken fries and selling plates. Everything we could do to make money to try to buy a truck,” Barrett says.
That first truck was a 1942 Chevrolet. It was enough to put together a team of firefighters to protect the community. Something Barrett is passionate about.
“Seeing people’s houses burn and nobody there to help them. I was very conscious of that fact,” Barrett says.
Barrett was chief of the department for 25 years. He was a pioneer in the water shuttle system. It revolutionized a way for rural firefighters to carry water to fires. Through all of it, his family has been right there.
“In the beginning the ladies were helping out. My wife even drove a truck too,” Barrett says.
Barrett remembers a time before the department existed. He wishes more people would understand the serious need for volunteer firefighters.
“You do it because of the dedication you have for your community and your fellow man,” Barrett says.
Through several phases, location changes and upgrades, the Toomsuba department is running strong today and so is Barrett. He’s in his late 70s, but if you think that stops him, you’d be very wrong.
“It gets in my blood and I can’t get it out. You still want to go. When that pager goes off, I get up. It’s hard to sometimes, but I get up and go,” Barrett explains.
To stay up to date with our First Responders series tune in every Sunday night for Newscenter 11 at 10:00 p.m. and on Good Morning Meridian on Monday mornings.