Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce showcases Long Beach Police and Fire Chiefs
By Andy Kanengiser
Long Beach Fire Chief Griff Skellie and Police Chief Billy Seal face incredible challenges year-round, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s a job both Long Beach leaders take on with determination and hard work as they serve citizens in the Friendly City.
A Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce forum gave local citizens a better idea of the priorities on the agenda for both department chiefs in 2021. The vehicle was a live Zoom broadcast the pro- business organization sponsored on March 4.
“Thanks for all you do for our community,’’ Gabrielle Rose of the Chamber told the leaders early in the live one-hour program on social media.
Dollars going to police and fire departments are never enough to meet all the needs of communities spanning the U.S. That’s the case on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The Long Beach Fire Department budget is $2.5 million annually, with the bulk of it going for personnel. The Long Beach Police Department budget sits in the neighborhood of $3 million per year.
No matter what’s the bottom line, or the day of the week, the City departments do the best they can under difficult circumstances. Officials were up against Hurricane Zeta, icy roads during a February winter cold snap and COVID-19 for more than a year. The latter slammed the economy, put millions of people out of work, and cut critical community services.
Speaking about the impact of COVID-19, Skellie says cutting services “is not something we want to do.’’ Amid the global health emergency, Long Beach citizens “are very understanding – they are very supportive of us.’’
That attitude, he said, makes it easier for Long Beach firefighters to do their jobs.
COVID-19 has impacted firefighters in many ways, including training. That’s obvious when they engage in training maneuvers outdoors.
“We are just trying to stay distanced,’’ the chief said. “It’s not fun.’’
With three different COVID-19 vaccines now getting into millions of arms across the country, officials desire a return to normalcy.
“We’d love to be back to normal, but I don’t know when,’’ Chief Skellie said.
The pandemic has required firefighters to spray their fire engines, vehicles and equipment at every shift to keep everything disinfected.
Chief Billy Seal and his officers address issues like animal control, as well as trying to curb illegal drugs in South Mississippi. Drugs pour into the region from other countries and states.
Law enforcement officers are seeing more heroin and bad Pentothal enter the area. “It is scary,’’ Seal said. It drives up drug overdoses and threatens lives.
Chief Skellie was asked about one problem that firefighters nationwide are often asked to solve.
Do Long Beach firefighters still rescue cats lodged in trees?
“We don’t have the resources for it,’’ Skellie said. He believes most cats will eventually hop down once the animals get hungry.
Long Beach police officers, meanwhile, do what they can when they receive reports of missing pets.
On another topic, both Skellie and Seal are seeking to hire good people to beef up their City departments.
“We are constantly trying to hire,’’ Seal said. In early March, there were three applications turned in for four vacancies. “It is hard to hire right now.’’
The Fire Department will soon have an opening this spring, with more expected as firefighters retire.
One of the Long Beach Fire Department’s priorities includes improving the city’s fire rating. Another is to obtain a new fire engine. The last model purchased was a 2013 pumper.
Alderman-at-large Donald Frazer said he believes the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce forum is an excellent way to inform citizens.
“It is always a good tale for the community to see what is going on behind the scenes,’’ he said. “I think our chief of police and fire chief do a great job.’’