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'Big brotherhood' helps North Mississippi fire department destroyed by tornado

Mechanic Christopher Bellais, left, and Biloxi Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief John Jennings look over a spare Biloxi Fire Department pumper truck on Monday, seeing what items need replacing or cleaned. The Biloxi Fire Department is getting the truck cleaned up in hopes to donate it to the Three Forks Volunteer Fire Department.
Mechanic Christopher Bellais, left, and Biloxi Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief John Jennings look over a spare Biloxi Fire Department pumper truck on Monday, seeing what items need replacing or cleaned. The Biloxi Fire Department is getting the truck cleaned up in hopes to donate it to the Three Forks Volunteer Fire Department. SUN HERALD

In the aftermath of a Dec. 23 tornado, Three Forks volunteer firefighters cut their way through debris to reach the trucks and equipment they needed to help others, only to find their own building destroyed.

The department's metal roof was across the street; support beams had crushed three fire trucks and a rescue vehicle. All their equipment was ruined or scattered to the winds, said volunteer fire Chief Joey Jackson.

"It's a kick in the butt when you drive up to get your stuff to help people and you don't have anything to help them with," Jackson said. "I can't explain the feeling. Everything was gone."

Around the state, fire departments are spreading the word and rounding up what they can to resupply the firefighters of Three Forks.

The Biloxi Fire Department hopes to send Three Forks a spare pumper truck. Deputy Fire Chief John Jennings said if the City Council approves the donation at its Tuesday meeting, the truck should be on its way to Three Forks on Wednesday morning.

Jennings emailed other departments Monday afternoon to let them know what equipment the city has to put on the truck. He was soliciting equipment and supplies from other departments, too.

"Whatever it takes, we'll do," Jennings said. "There's no way we can repay everything people did for us after Katrina. The only thing we can do is pay it forward."

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Gulfport Fire Chief Mike Beyerstedt said his department is donating a fire hose.

The Three Forks department has 25 members, with only five sets of usable gear, Jennings notified other departments.

Once he discovered their station was destroyed, Jackson notified the Tippah County Sheriff's Office that the nearest volunteer departments, in the communities of Faulkner and Walnut, would need to be dispatched for fires.

After the tornado, Jackson set up a makeshift command and dispersed firefighters into the community in their personal pickups and utility vehicles. They rescued several people stranded by debris, he said.

One elderly woman died in the tornado when her mobile home tumbled into a ravine. Her body was found Christmas Eve, Jackson said. Of the 800 homes in the Three Forks service area, he said, 40 were destroyed and another 50 heavily damaged.

He's grateful for the help from other departments and anxious to restore the fire fighting services of the Three Forks department, established in 1995.

"Fire fighting is one big brotherhood," Jackson said. "When one's affected, we're all affected."

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