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Small Town Lacked Fire Gear. Jeffco Commissioner Jimmie Stephens Answered The Call

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Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times

North Johns Mayor Kenneth Lindsay remembers his visit with Jefferson County District 3 Commissioner Jimmie Stephens.

“When you’re a rural community like ours, … any way you can get assistance from the county is always important,” Lindsay said. “I was interested in fire protection, as well as roads.”

Taking care of the roads of North Johns was already “on the books,” so Stephens, who represents the area, asked what else could be done “and [the mayor] said the fire department was not operational,” recalled the commissioner. “We just went on from there, and hopefully we’re gonna stand them up with a fire department to help improve the quality of life for the town’s citizens.”

The office of the County Commission exists to fill in the gaps, he added.

“We’re the backstop for [Jefferson County municipalities],” Stephens said. “For those that struggle and have difficulty providing those basic services, that’s one of our roles—to backstop that and to help them. Not necessarily to fund them but to help them find the funding they need to be autonomous and successful.”

Stephens stressed the importance of “autonomy” for smaller communities.

“They don’t need to be dependent on others from the outside in order to have their services,” he said. “The county has basic services that we provide to all of our citizens. To really have an improved quality of life and to really enjoy the benefits of a municipality, though, you have to have those types of services. … That’s what we’re attempting to do with North Johns: to provide that degree of autonomy and make them aware and feel good about being North Johns.”

As Stephens sees it, there are fundamental services that should be basic in all communities.

“There are three things that we look at,” he said. “First of all, you want to make sure you have a safe environment in which to live; the sheriff handles that. [Second], you want to make sure you have fire protection to protect your property. [And third], you need to worry about the roads and the trash. If you take care of those things, you’ve got to happy citizens.”

Born and raised near Bessemer, Alabama, Stephens said he understands and tries to address the needs of each individual community within his district. Those needs vary greatly, he said, from the big city of Hoover to small towns like North Johns, Adger, and Mount Olive.

“You have to be attuned to and understand the needs of each community and try to fulfill those needs to be a good commissioner,” he said, adding that he makes a point to travel the vast area of his district to get a mental snapshot of each city and community he represents.

“I’ll take three days out of the month and drive through my entire district to check the roads, potholes, to look at the trash and sometimes lament over that because of my inability to do much about it,” he said.

District 3 is an expansive area that spans from the southwestern area near Bessemer around and up to northern Jefferson County, west of Interstate 65. Its communities include but are not limited to Parkwood, Greenwood, McCalla, Sylvan Springs, Short Creek, Maytown, West Jefferson, Brookside, Graysville, and Corner.

“North Johns is just part of my southern circle,” Stephens said. “I try to get to the area once a month. I may not stop, or I may just stop at the Adger Grocery or someplace like that, buy a Coke, and say, ‘Hi.’”

A fire department in North Johns is all about the Insurance Services Office (ISO) Fire Ratings, Stephens said. That rating considers the time from firefighters getting a call to when they arrive on a scene; it also considers the number of responders who can be dispatched to a fire.

“For a small municipality like that to have its own fire department, really means a great deal,” the Commission president said. “When they have their own department, they’re able to take care of themselves. That’s very important for all of our municipalities and our rural areas.”