BY DAVID FISHER
WEAKLEY COUNTY (April 4) — Two Weakley County volunteer fire departments have been awarded grant funding by the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s office.
Dresden and Sharon fire departments were among 62 volunteer fire departments statewide chosen to receive grant money, out of 172 fire departments that submitted applications seeking more than $1 million in funding.
The program, which was created through legislation overseen by Governor Bill Lee and approved by the Tennessee General Assembly, awards $1 million total to Tennessee’s volunteer fire departments in all three Grand Divisions. The grants will be used to purchase firefighting equipment or to help departments meet local matching requirements for federal equipment grants.
Dresden Volunteer Fire Department
Dresden Fire Department has received $27,000 in grant funding from the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s office. It is a 100 percent grant, requiring no local matching funds.
Dresden Fire Chief Paul Hutcherson states he is pleased and very appreciative to get the grant. He noted every penny the Dresden Fire Department receives from the taxpayer is spent wisely to help keep the community safe.
Chief Hutcherson states funds from the Volunteer Firefighter Equipment and Training Grant will be used to purchase new SCBA bottles (air tanks) and new firefighting helmets.
According to Chief Hutcherson, Dresden’s firefighting equipment was impacted by the December 10, 2021, tornado. All three of Dresden Fire Department’s fire engines, as well as a rescue truck, were damaged by the tornado. The fire trucks are being repaired one at a time, so there will be two available to respond to fires. The rescue truck is also currently in the shop undergoing repairs. However, a brush truck, utilized for fighting grass fires, was a total loss and must be replaced.
Dresden has 20 volunteer firefighters, with three additional personnel currently undergoing training, Chief Hutcherson said.
Dresden’s grant application was written and submitted by Dresden Deputy Fire Chief Kory Green, who writes many of the grant applications for the Dresden Fire Department. This saves the City of Dresden the expense of hiring a grant writer.
Sharon Volunteer Fire Department
The Sharon Volunteer Fire Department was recently notified it has been awarded a Volunteer Firefighter Equipment and Training Grant of $21,750 by the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s office.
Sharon Fire Chief Gary Eddings, Jr., said, “It’s a 100 percent grant with no local match. The grant funds will go toward the purchase of turnout gear for the firefighters, which includes helmets, gloves, jackets and pants. The old turnout gear is 10 years old. It has holes in it. It’s just not safe, and needs to be replaced.”
According to Chief Eddings, the needed equipment costs $3,000 per set, and the grant money will help the city purchase 10 sets of turnout gear. He explained it would not have been possible to purchase the turnout gear without the grant, because the city does not have sufficient funds otherwise.
“This is the second year we applied for the grant,” Eddings said. He noted, after Sharon failed to receive grant funding last year, he was thrilled to learn his department was awarded the grant this time around. Eddings described the grant as “A big plus for us.”
“Now that Sharon Fire Department has been approved for the grant, the next step is to obtain bids for the turnout gear.”
The new gear augments Sharon Fire Department’s firefighting equipment, which includes three fire trucks and a rescue vehicle. The number of volunteer firefighters varies, but there are usually 15-20 available to be called out in the event of a fire, wreck or other emergency. Having adequate equipment and trained personnel helps Sharon Fire Department maintain its Class 4 ISO rating.
Chief Eddings stated he is looking for applicants to fill firefighter positions at the Sharon Fire Department.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find men and women willing to take all of the training required these days,” Eddings said. He explained this is not only a problem for the Sharon Fire Department, but for other volunteer fire departments nationwide.
Volunteer Firefighter Equipment and Training Grant Program
Statements released by the State of Tennessee Fire Marshall’s office reads, “These applications show a clear need for equipment and training among Tennessee’s volunteer fire departments, unfortunately, we were not able to fund all of the applications received.”
In order to be considered for grant funding, applicants had to meet the mandatory requirements set forth in the Technical Response and Evaluation Guide of the Solicitation. 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.
“I’ve traveled across Tennessee and personally met many of the brave men and women who serve their communities as volunteer firefighters. I have seen the pressing needs faced by Tennessee’s volunteer firefighters who continue to steadfastly serve their communities. They show great courage and bravery despite using often aging equipment that needs to be replaced,” said Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Carter Lawrence. “I commend Governor Lee and the General Assembly for having the vision to launch this program in 2020 and then increase the program’s funding from $500,000 in 2020 to $1 million in 2022 in order to increase the assistance to volunteer fire departments. Lives will be saved and property protected because of the equipment purchased through this program.”
During the program’s inaugural year in 2020, 41 departments were awarded $500,000 for equipment purchases through the program.
The grant program strengthens Governor Lee and the State Fire Marshal’s commitment to protecting property and reducing fire fatalities in Tennessee.
Volunteer fire departments are crucial to providing fire safety in Tennessee, as over 75 percent 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,” said Assistant Commissioner for Fire Prevention Gary Farley.
“Our volunteer firefighters are absolutely essential to the health and safety of our communities, and it is important we ensure they have the resources necessary to stay safe,” said Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), who represents the 24th Senate District. “These grants will help accomplish that.
“I appreciate all our firefighters and first responders. Their daily commitment to saving lives is selfless and admirable. I will continue fighting to bring more funding to their work,” he added.
Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) praised the program as well as the Tennessee fire service’s dedication to serving their communities.
“Every single day, Tennessee firefighters put their lives on the line for their communities,” said Senator Bell, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We must do our part to ensure our volunteer fire departments have the modern resources and equipment they need to save lives and safely return to their families. The grants distributed through the State Fire Marshal’s program will aid in helping secure the equipment, training, and support firefighters need to have a real and lasting impact on our communities.”