SUMNER COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — As Nashville grows, surrounding communities grow with it.
Volunteer fire departments in Sumner County told News 2 that growth has also increased their service calls.
Assistant Fire Chief Tav Matthews said at his department, Highland Volunteer, there is gear that’s almost 30 years old. Specifically, his two fire engines.
“Once again due to funding issues it’s the best we can d with what we got,” said Matthews.
Chief Joe McLaughlin, of Cottontown Volunteer, said funding is the biggest hurdle that volunteer departments face.
“Funding is a problem. We depend on donations from the county and to supplement that, we do fundraisers.”
McLaughlin now serves as representative for all volunteer fire departments in Sumner County. He shared that he often speaks before Sumner County’s budget committee, advocating for funding.
Sumner County government funds its volunteer fire departments as “nonprofits”.
McLaughlin added that tight budgeting prevents volunteer departments from replacing expensive pieces of gear, even though the gear is being used more often.
According to McLaughlin from 2017 to 2018, Sumner County’s volunteer departments had service calls increase by just over 10%.
“We’re running more medical assist to Sumner County EMS. We’re running more mutual aid calls to assist volunteer fire departments,” said Matthews
According to the Tennessee Department of Commerce, over half of the state’s fire departments, are volunteer.
McLaughlin said the challenges in Sumner County, are also faced statewide.
“There’s other volunteer fire departments in this state that are a lot worse than we are.”
McLaughlin and Matthews both believe a solution is permanent, reliable funding from local governments.
“If you travel outside any city in Sumner county, you’re going to be protected by a volunteer fire department,” said Matthews
State lawmakers recently created a grant program to help volunteer fire departments buy equipment. The new law goes into effect next January.