UPDATE: WGNS previously reported that the Rutherford County Fire Department was set to receive grant money that would be funneled into the various volunteer fire departments within the county. The funding was part of a massive $5-million grant however, it was later confirmed that Rutherford County was not included in the grant funds and was not eligible to apply for the money.
Lisa Kaye, Public Information Officer for Rutherford County told WGNS News on Friday that none of the funding was earmarked for Rutherford County and instead, the Town of Rutherford, a small community in Gibson County, Tennessee. Rutherford’s population is comprised of a little more than 1,272 residents. Rutherford is 3-hours west of Murfreesboro, or about 184-miles down Interstate 40W and onto Tennessee 104.
Outside of Rutherford County, Tennessee… 147 Volunteer Fire Departments stand to receive money through the historic $5 million Volunteer Firefighter Equipment and Training Grant Program. Neighboring Bedford and Cannon County Fire Departments are included in the funding, but Rutherford County was not eligible to apply for the funds due to their percentage of paid staff members verses volunteers.
The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (“TDCI”) and the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (“SFMO”) announced the positive news about the list of nearly 150 volunteer fire departments receiving grant allocations in 2023 as part of this historically significant grant program.
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.
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, fire hoses, 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.