March 10, 2023
By: Dwayne Page
The DeKalb County, City of Smithville, and Town of Alexandria Volunteer Fire Departments are each receiving 2023 grant awards from the state through the Volunteer Firefighter Equipment and Training Grant Program.
The local departments are among 147 across the state who are getting a share of a $5 million allocation through the program according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Created through legislation overseen by Governor Bill Lee and approved by the Tennessee General Assembly, the Volunteer Firefighter Equipment and Training Grant Program awards grant monies to volunteer fire departments across Tennessee’s three Grand Divisions. The grants will be used to purchase firefighting equipment or to help volunteer departments meet local matching requirements for federal equipment grants.
DeKalb County Fire Chief Donny Green, Smithville Fire Chief Charlie Parker, and Alexandria Fire Chief John Partridge met with State Senator Janice Bowling and State Representative Michael Hale Friday morning at the DeKalb Fire Department’s Main Station on King Ridge Road to make the announcement. All three local grant awards are funded 100% with no local match requirements.
The DeKalb County Fire Department will use its $19,810 grant award to purchase turnout gear according to Chief Green.
“We will purchase five sets of turnout gear which includes boots, bunker pants, bunker coats, helmets, and gloves. We are excited about getting this assistance to do that. We have tried to keep a rotation of that going (turnout gear replacement) so this will help us in our operating budget in replacing more sets. We have about 80 firefighters and that turnout gear has a useable life of about five years. With that many firefighters the amount it costs to replace the gear is a substantial burden on our local budget, so this assistance is greatly appreciated. We want to thank State Representative Hale and State Senator Bowling for being staunch supporters of emergency services and we look forward to continuing working with them as we go forward,” said Chief Green.
Chief Parker said the grant award to the Smithville Fire Department is $16,500.
“We are grateful for this grant because otherwise money for this equipment would have had to come out of our budget,” said Chief Parker. “On our grant portion we are buying self-contained breathing apparatus air bottles and face masks so that we can assign individual masks to some of our firefighters. We have 12 bottles that will go out of service this year so this grant money will be used to replace those with new air bottles which is what the firefighters use when they go inside house fires or anywhere in a dangerous environment. We must also have extra bottles because they only last about 20 minutes at a time and if a firefighter is in there working hard about 15-20 minutes is the only air he has so we have to rotate those bottles out because we don’t have any way to fill them on site. We have to carry extra bottles on our vehicles,” said Chief Parker.
The Town of Alexandria’s grant award is for $22,480 according to Fire Chief Partridge.
“This could not have come at a better time for us because we are in dire need of replacing some turnout gear that is approaching 15 or 16 years old. This turnout gear is what allows us to go inside of a house to make a rescue and put out somebody’s fire and do it safely. We are going to purchase eight sets of firefighter turnout gear including coats, pants, and boots with this grant. That will replace about half of our department’s turnout gear we have right now which is all out of date. We have sixteen firefighters so this will get us about halfway back to where we need to be. Being in a smaller community at Alexandria, our tax base is smaller than the rest of the county and region as well so this is a huge benefit for us. This grant is more than our yearly budget so there is no way our town would ever be able to go out and purchase eight or ten sets of turnout gear without assistance from a grant like this or some type of donation,” said Chief Partridge.
“I am grateful they (local fire departments) made the grant applications,” said Senator Bowling. “You have to go through the process and that money (through this program) has increased this year to $5 million from $500,000 last year. I am hoping to see more increases in funding (for firefighting). Tennessee is blessed. We have an incredible budget. We have had a $9.5 billion surplus and with that amount of money it needs to be directed and budgeted carefully so it can go to the places that Tennessee’s Constitution says we are supposed to help. We are supposed to help transportation, education, and public safety. Those are the three mandates in our Constitution, and this (grant program) is of course for public safety. With 70% of Tennessee’s firefighters being volunteer, the state needs to recognize that without these men and women who are willing to volunteer and go into harm’s way when everybody else is running from it, Tennessee couldn’t have towns, businesses, or churches. There must be a fire department to be able to afford your insurance. We are really grateful to all the volunteer firemen. Tennessee cannot survive without them,” said Senator Bowling.
“We are grateful anytime we get extra money for our fire departments,” said State Representative Hale. “For me, being from DeKalb County, these (firefighters) are people I have known all my life. I was raised and went to school with them and their families and I have seen firsthand the sacrifices they have made when their families didn’t know if they were going to return back from a fire so we are humbled and thankful for them and what they do every day. We hope we can get more money into their hands to be able to improve their firefighting equipment and tools and other things necessary for them to be able to do the job the very best they can. Any way we can help from the state’s standpoint, we want to be here to fight for our local fire departments and emergency services across the board,” said State Representative Hale.
The grant program strengthens the commitment from Governor Lee and TDCI to protecting property and helping reduce fire fatalities in Tennessee.
“Since the program’s creation in 2020, $6.5 million has been used to purchase the turnout gear, firehoses, thermal imaging cameras, and other important pieces of equipment that helps ensure the safety of the brave men and women who volunteer to protect their communities,” said TDCI Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Carter Lawrence. “Because volunteer fire departments’ needs are so great, Governor Lee and the General Assembly have been steadily increasing the assistance during each grant period in order to replace aging, unsafe equipment. It is my honor to help serve the Tennessee fire service so that they can save lives and protect property across Tennessee.”
During the program’s inaugural year in 2020, 41 departments were awarded $500,000 for equipment purchases through the program. In 2022, 62 fire departments received grants totaling $1 million. A list of fire departments receiving $5 million in grant funding in 2023 can be found here.
Volunteer fire departments are crucial to providing fire safety in Tennessee as over 70% of the Volunteer State’s fire departments are staffed entirely by volunteers. Of Tennessee’s 19,510 active firefighters, an estimated 11,229 are volunteers.
“Volunteer fire departments are the backbone of fire protection in our communities, and it is crucial that they have the equipment they need to safely complete their mission,” said Assistant Commissioner for Fire Prevention Gary Farley. “As a lifelong member of the fire service, I am proud to be associated with a program that is helping protect Tennessee firefighters who risk their lives every day.”
During the application period (Nov. 1, 2022 – Dec. 1, 2022), the SFMO received a total of 191 applications from Tennessee fire departments. The applications were reviewed, scored, and submitted to a seven-member committee for the final award selection. As required by law, the grants were awarded equally to fire departments across Tennessee’s three Grand Divisions.