The number of structure fires were down in February but the city recorded its first fire death of the year, officials with the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department said during their monthly report Monday to the City Council Public Safety Committee.
Robert Arnold, 55, died Feb. 19 in a fire at an apartment building at 1401 Cottonwood, Building 27. Fire department spokesman Lt. Harold Clark said Monday that investigators determined the fire was started by a cigarette that was being smoked in bed.
Harold said firefighters have been out in the neighborhood passing out literature, offering to install free smoke detectors and checking existing smoke detectors — as is standard after any neighborhood experiences a fire death.
Nine structure fires were reported in February, compared to 22 in January. Firefighters also responded to seven vehicle fires, up from five in January; two grass fires, down from 12 in January; and 148 emergency medical calls, down from 170 in January.
Clark also reported that the department’s fitness room at its training facility is complete. It has been undergoing a remodeling project.
Fire Chief Shauwn Howell gave aldermen an update on capital expenditures for the department out of the five-eighths-cent sales tax increase and bond issue approved by voters in February 2011. The department has ordered three new fire trucks and Howell said the department is preparing for training and maintenance on some of the state-of-the-art features that will be included on the trucks when they arrive in September or October.
The three custom-built E-ONE Class A Pumper fire engines are being built at a cost of $1,157,300.
Howell and four other fire department employees traveled last month to Florida where the trucks are being built and were able to look at the designs and participate in other aspects of pre-construction.
“Everything is moving forward with the new fire trucks,” Howell said. “We’re just playing a waiting game now. Everything is in place and moving forward.”
Regarding the bond-funded improvements remodeling and construction projects involving three fire stations, Howell said those projects are also moving forward and that fire department staff have been working closely with the project managers.
“All of those are making great progress,” Howell said.
The Public Safety Committee members Irene Holcomb, Bill Brumett and Wayne Easterly discussed with Alderman Steven Mays a proposal from Mays requesting the Police Department restore a police presence to a former substation located at the Family Community Development Corp. building in the University Park community.
“The building is police-ready and the community is asking for that in order to get the crime down,” Mays said.
Rather than forward the proposed resolution on to the full council, the members commented that the matter was more of an administration decision and asked Mays to discuss the idea with Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones.
Mays said that Davis-Jones has toured the facility before, but Davis-Jones said later in the meeting that she did not remember that. Mays agreed to table his proposal until Davis-Jones has had time to look at the building, but said after the meeting that he has not given up on the idea.
In other business, Davis-Jones said the department’s AmeriCorps program, which launched in 2011, continues to do well. She provided reported crime rate statistics for the two areas of the city where the AmeriCorps cadets are located that indicated crime has decreased by 14.47 percent in Zone 3 (Dollarway area) and decreased by 11.57 percent in Zone 5 (Broadmoor area) in January.
Animal Control Director Brandon Southerland reported that the department fielded 370 calls in February, including: 248 for stray or loose animals, 34 for wildlife, 31 for picking up dead animals, nine dog bites or attacks, seven requests to check on a pet’s condition, 68 owner-surrendered pets from the city, five owner-surrendered pets from the county, 80 impounded dogs and 21 impounded cats. Seven pets were reclaimed by their owners and 16 dogs and one cat were adopted.