Operating an all-volunteer fire department on a shoestring budget has its challenges.
Members of the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office made a trip to Warren County on Thursday to visit Centertown Volunteer Fire Department and North Warren Volunteer Fire Department.
“We’re here because we want to get a realistic look at what’s out there, what equipment you have and what equipment you need,” said assistant commissioner Gary Farley. “We’re your voice when we testify before the Tennessee General Assembly.”
State officials came bearing gifts, namely drinks and snacks to help firefighters refuel when they’re on the scene of a fire.
Farley also wanted to make fire chiefs aware of state grants that are available for fire equipment and firefighter training. He said volunteer firefighters can be reimbursed by the state $600 for 30 hours of training.
“A trained firefighter is a safe firefighter and at the end of the shift that firefighter goes home,” said Farley, a former firefighter himself.
Centertown Fire Department Chief Phillip Prater said the department currently has gear for all 15 of its active firefighters. Prater was pleased to learn about the grant opportunities and flashed a wide smile when he saw the snacks included chocolate donuts.
“The biggest shortages we face are with equipment, personnel and water,” said Prater. “It’s hard to get people. The state requires all volunteer firefighters to receive 64 hours of training, which is a good thing for safety, but it’s a bad thing for finding firefighters. For some people that amounts to their vacation for the year so they’re going to spend their vacation time training so they can work for free.”
Centertown Assistant Chief Clint Walker agreed.
“It’s tough to keep people once the newness wears off and they realize this is a job,” said Walker.
County Executive Jimmy Haley pointed out how improving infrastructure, such as access to water, is crucial in fighting fires and in residential development. Haley said he is hopeful some federal stimulus money the county receives can be earmarked for utilities to improve water lines.
Haley noted that’s especially important in areas like Centertown which is an attractive place to live for people who work in Murfreesboro.