From left: Brown County Convention Visitors Commission members Barry Herring and Kevin Ault, Cordry-Sweetwater Fire Department Chief Mike Leavitt, BCVFD Chief Nick Kelp, Fruitdale Volunteer Fire Department member Chris Ainsworth, BCCF CEO Maddison Miller and BCMC Executive Director Christian Webb pose with a check to fund new radio systems for local fire departments.

Local fire departments will soon be using new emergency radios thanks to grants and donations from local and federal organizations.

County-wide, all six fire departments offer the same services including protecting lives and property through fire prevention and education, fire and rescue response, and the provision of emergency medical aid.

Last year, all six departments were invited to participate in a regional Assistance to Firefighter Grant through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Four of the six departments — Brown County (Nashville), Cordry-Sweetwater, Fruitdale and Southern Brown — chose to participate and were awarded $378,541.90 toward the purchase of new radios.

Sean Hildreth, marketing and communications outreach officer for the Brown County Community Foundation (BCCF), said last week the grant allows for “much better” equipment and radios.

“The emergency radios that they’ll be able to use to go on calls, communicate better with each other, and really just create a better community for us all,” he said.

However, the total project cost is $425,753.18, which left a sizable remaining sum for departments with extremely limited resources.

Requiring additional aid to purchase the equipment, Brown County (Nashville) Volunteer Fire Department (BCVFD) approached BCCF for assistance.

Realizing the county-wide impact, BCCF’s board of trustees agreed the project was the “perfect fit” for funds collected from the Brown County Music Center’s (BCMC) Save Your Seat program, which was launched in 2019 and provides first right of refusal for BCMC ticket purchases to local patrons, while also supporting the community with grants.

From the BCMC Save Your Seat funds, the BCCF’s board of trustees allocated $38,825.50 toward the new radios for local fire departments.

BCVFD Chief Nick Kelp said last week that the current radio system is about 30 years old and started failing around three years ago.

“There’s a lot of equipment that is either breaking or malfunctioning or just getting outdated and replacing it is not very cost effective,” he said.

As time passes, radios are taken out of service as they become nonfunctioning. This leaves some firefighters on the roster without a radio while responding to emergencies.

“Communication is key when responding and operating on a scene,” a press release from BCCF said.

“Without proper radio equipment, firefighters are unable to effectively communicate with dispatch and other incoming first responders. This includes vital information such as a “scene size-up,” strategic planning, unit and apparatus assignments, and requests for additional resources.”

The department will move from its current radio system to a VHF (very high frequency) system, along with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office and Nashville Metropolitan Police Department.

NPD Chief Heather Burris said at the Nashville Town Council meeting on Dec. 15 that the VHF equipment had arrived at the police department and was ready to be installed.

Kelp said the fire department wants to be able to communicate with other emergency agencies better by having updated systems.

“We are trying to move to the new system to get some more updated equipment and be able to talk to each other easier,” he said.

Meeting community needs

BCMC Executive Director Christian Webb said last week the music center wanted to assist the fire department because its role is important in the community.

“First and foremost, first responders run into danger, and we had the availability with the foundation to look where the funds should go, and we said, ‘why not give it to the people that really need it?’”

Webb said being able to provide the funds to the department is in line with the goals of the music center.

“It’s about being within the community, it’s about helping the community,” Webb said.

“It’s just like during COVID, we turned the venue into a testing (facility) and then a clinic. It’s just about being part of the community and helping everyone.”

“This is just one of those opportunities where (the music center) could help with a huge need for the emergency radios for the volunteer fire departments, and really support the community,” Hildreth said.

“(The music center is) a great part of our community, they’re here for the entertainment and for some tourism value to the community, but then this is a way they’re giving back that’s helping directly for all the residents of Brown County.”

On the morning of Dec. 15, those involved in the funding processes met at the music center to officially pass the funds over to the firefighters.

After a large check was handed over by Webb and BCCF CEO Maddison Miller to local firefighters, Kelp expressed his thanks to the community for the support and to the other fire departments that participated in the FEMA grant program.

The creation of the BCMC in 2018 and resulting Administrative Agreement outlines that once the BCMC’s capital improvement account balance has a reserve of $1 million, 75% of the “excess revenue” will flow to the BCCF for grantmaking.

Celebrating 30 years in 2023, the BCCF has played a role in funding community development, including projects like the new Early Education Center, the Brown County Historical Society, the Brown County Public Library, the Brown County Community YMCA, the Brown County Playhouse, the Brown County Humane Society, the Salt Creek Trail, the Career Resource Center and more.

BCCF granted more than $780,000 to the community in 2022, including tens of thousands of dollars toward first responder projects, programs and operations.

“We’re just thrilled to partner with BCCF to help meet this important need in the community,” said Webb.

“This is a great example of how the music center benefits the entire county. We hope guests and residents continue to enjoy all the wonderful opportunities our music center has to offer so we can continue to provide grant opportunities which enhance the community.”

“The music center is among our community’s most important economic assets and we are grateful they are giving back to help our first responders,” Miller said in the press release.

“This innovative partnership between government and philanthropy is eliminating financial barriers to provide equipment which keeps our families and neighbors safe. The first project of many, we see a long, productive, relationship with the BCMC in providing much-needed resources to our community.”

“It was a huge opportunity to get the FEMA grant, that’s a lot of money that they gifted us, and then (the check) is going to even further help,” Kelp said.

“This was money that we were going to have to pay out of the departments and we’re already pretty cash-strapped so this is also huge for them so they can spend this money on other areas that need attention.”