DeKalb Fire Making Progress in Recruitment and Retention of Volunteers

June 11, 2010
Donny Green

The DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department is making huge strides with its recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters thanks to a $190,000 4-year grant awarded to the Department in 2008. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant is a 100% federal grant, with no local matching requirement from county government, and DeKalb County is one of the few Tennessee counties awarded this grant.

Chief Donny Green says that DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department is a unique volunteer fire department because most departments are not county-wide departments. DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department covers all the areas of DeKalb County outside the city limits of Smithville and Alexandria while providing fire response, vehicle rescue, medical first responders, and a fire safety and prevention program. Today, the department has a membership of 75 active firefighters, including a Chief, Assistant Chief, 2 Captains, and 5 Lieutenants that are all 100% volunteer that provide emergency responses out of 11 substations strategically located across the county.

The 2008 SAFER Grant will continue through March 2013. The grant provides 100% federal funding to provide incentives to get new volunteers recruited and to retain the volunteers already on the department. Among the incentives are reimbursement for fuel expenses ($10 per call), as volunteers use their own personal vehicles to respond to emergencies. Another incentive to both new recruits and veteran members is the annual training incentive awards. Members who attend 100% of the monthly training drills get $400, and members who attend at least 75% of the monthly training drills get $200 each year. In 2009, the department had 31 of our 61 members attend 100% of monthly training drills and 17 members attend at least 75% of monthly training drills. Thus far in 2010, we have 52 of our 75 volunteer firefighters who have 100% monthly training drill attendance.

Chief Green says the results from this grant have been remarkable. In 2009, DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department was named as one of the top departments, from among all paid and volunteer departments across the State of Tennessee, as having the most certified training hours. In 2009, there were only 8 other volunteer fire departments in Tennessee that had more training hours than DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department, and for 2010, the department is on track to exceed the 2009 training hours.

As for the recruiting of volunteer firefighters, Chief Green says the department is exceeding the quarterly goals of the grant project. At the beginning of the grant period in 2008, the department had 61 active volunteer firefighters in the 11-station department. Our goal in the grant project is to increase our volunteer staff by at least 2.75 firefighters for each quarter in the grant period. Today, we have 75 active volunteer firefighters on board and we are meeting and exceeding our membership goals. The DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department’s ultimate goal is to have around 120 volunteer firefighters. That would provide a staff of about 11 volunteer firefighters per station.

Chief Green says he is strongly opposed to having to resort to paid firefighters. “I think hiring firefighters would have a very negative financial effect on our county’s budget. We are confident that DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department can continue to provide good service to our citizens while excelling in recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters and providing them with excellent training opportunities. Our effectiveness has already been proven with the Insurance Service Office (ISO). The cities of Liberty and Dowelltown have already reaped the benefits of having their homeowner’s insurance premiums drastically reduced, going from an ISO class protection rating 9 to a class protection rating 6,” says Chief Green.

Since 2001, the Department has been awarded over $1.7 million in local, state, and federal grants that have allowed equipment to be upgraded across the county-wide operation. These equipment upgrades were made, with very minimal local tax dollars, to prepare the county for an upcoming ISO evaluation where the Department will attempt to lower the entire county’s ISO rating to help reduce homeowner’s insurance premiums for DeKalb County residents.

“Lowering our ISO rating is a win-win situation for DeKalb County,” says County Mayor Mike Foster. “Our county fire department is continuing to be successful in obtaining grants, recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters who are committed to training and providing good fire protection services to our citizens. Our citizens are safer, and if we are able to reach our goal of obtaining a lower ISO rating, our insurance rates should go down saving a considerable amount of money for our home and property owners. Our volunteer firefighters are better trained and equipped and this keeps volunteer morale high. Many of our sister counties and cities have not been as fortunate in recruiting and retaining qualified volunteer firefighters. Volunteer firefighters are a valued asset to our county.”

“As long as we can continue provide adequate response and properly trained firefighters, I see no reason that DeKalb County cannot sustain an all volunteer fire department. After all, this is the “volunteer” state and all of our firefighters have a great sense of pride in being able to provide a great volunteer service to our communities,” says Chief Green.

If you are interested in learning more about the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department, or would like information on how to be on our team and become a volunteer firefighter, you can visit the Department’s website at: or call the Main Station at 615-597-2609 and leave a message.

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