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story.lead_photo.caption Bill Oliver with the Miller County Rural Fire Department Association speaks to the Quorum Court during Monday's regular meeting. The justices were considering a new Volunteer Fire Department Handbook, the procedures in which create an emergency services district and an administrative board to oversee all nine of the county's VFDs. Photo by Jennifer Middleton / Texarkana Gazette.

The Miller County Quorum Court approved a first reading of the Volunteer Fire Department Handbook during their regular meeting Monday.

"We are putting it on first reading because it needs some changes," Justice John Haltom said. "I think it's important that we bury the hatchet and make progress."

Justice Andy LaGrone abstained from the vote. The ordinance will be read again during the September and October meetings. The justices on the VFD Committee also approved changing "administrative fire chief" in the handbook to "fire administrator" during a committee meeting prior to the Quorum Court meeting. That change was approved during the first reading.

Many of the county's volunteer firefighters filled the benches in the third-floor courtroom to voice their concerns on the handbook, which was proposed earlier in the spring by Miller County Judge Cathy Hardin Harrison. It is based on a model used in Conway County, Ark. and creates an emergency services district and forms an administrative board to oversee the workings of the departments. The judge would oversee the board.

Bill Oliver with the Miller County Rural Volunteer Fire Department Association told the court they were willing to work with an administrative board.

"We can work with an administrative board, but I still think, and will always think, it will not work if we don't have a say so on the board," he said.

The board would be comprised of five people, two members nominated by the court, two by the fire departments and one by the judge. Previously, Harrison said she did not want a current firefighter to serve on the board, but during negotiations in Monday's meeting, she told the firefighters to give her three names of firefighters for consideration.

Larry Pritchett, Miller County's director of the Office of Emergency Management, stepped down from his role as fire administrator on Aug. 6. He had served in the position since the beginning of the year, when he was appointed to the position by the judge.

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