Volunteer Tennessee rescue squads receive grant totaling $3 million

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Volunteer fire departments and rescue squads serve their community daily with minimal staff and resources. However, $3 million in state funding could assist in future life-saving efforts.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) and the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) gave 104 Tennessee rescue squads grants totaling $3 million in 2024 through the Rescue Squad Grant Program.

The TDCI said rescue squads need to be registered with the Secretary of State and recognized by a local government to provide rescue squad services.

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Whether it is a fire, car crash, or a missing persons search, volunteer rescue squads and fire departments answer the call with on-call volunteers rushing from work or home to assist in rescue efforts.

“I mean, if we’re not here, who’s gonna do it?” Assistant Chief Tav Matthews of the Highland Volunteer Fire Department said. “The way Sumner County is, you know, we’ve got the cities of Gallatin, the cities of Hendersonville, White House, Portland, Westmoreland, which they kind of do both, but if the volunteer fire service isn’t here in Sumner County, there’s nobody to turn to.”

Most recently, in the search for missing Sumner County teen Sebastian Rogers, the Highland Volunteer Fire Department and Macon County Rescue Squad allocated their limited people and resources to the search, but also had to balance their minimal resources in the county for ongoing emergencies.

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“So the flip side of that is we still have our area to protect, so we had to take that into account on how often we sent crews or when and how many we sent,” Matthews said.

Along with limited people and resources, many rural Tennessee volunteer fire departments use outdated or worn gear every day, and firefighters tell me it can create a possible delay in lifesaving.

“Our extrication equipment, which is where we go and we cut the vehicle away from the patient to pull them out, is over 13 years old and it’s starting to fail,” Unit Director John Boxold for the Macon County Rescue Squad said. “With us not having the gear and having to do manual labor to get the individuals up or out, that delays that hour, so that affects patient care.”

Boxold added that worn gear endangers the patient and the firefighters who are assisting.

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Matthews told News 2 they needed three tools to extricate patients from vehicle accidents.

“What we’re hoping to get is what we call a cutter, a spreader or jaws of life, and a ram. All those tools would be about $30,000 plus,” Matthews said.

Matthews added the Highland Volunteer Fire Department was rewarded $29,000, and the Macon County Rescue Squad received $24,000. Both departments plan to use the money for their most prioritized needs.

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