Walden’s Creek Volunteer Fire Department earns federal funding to pay volunteers

FEMA “SAFER” grant gives Walden’s Creek Volunteer Fire Department more than half a million dollars in funding.
FEMA “SAFER” grant gives Walden’s Creek Volunteer Fire Department more than half a million dollars in funding.
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 10:59 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - More than half of the firefighters in Tennessee are volunteers, which means many across the state work those jobs for free.

“You know growing up the teacher asks you in class what you want to be when you grow up, and you say firefighter or police man,” said Andrew Henderson

Henderson joined the Walden’s Creek Volunteer Fire Department back in September and wasn’t getting paid for his first few months on the job, until the department was accepted under FEMA’s SAFER grant which gave the department more than $500,000.

With this new grant funding, some volunteers at Walden’s Creek are now being paid $10 an hour which allows them to spend more time at the department and limit long shifts which leads to burnout.

“As of last year for every one firefighter we gain we were losing three firefighters and for a call volume that’s grown 350% with 60% year over year, it’s unsustainable,” said battalion chief John Lanier.

Before the grant funding volunteers would await an emergency call from their home or a second job, which would take anywhere up to 15 minutes to get to the department and hit the road. Now, there will be at least four paid firefighters at the department every day of the week who will be able to respond at a moments notice to a fire.

Lanier believes it’ll not only make them more reliable to the community, but a more attractive place for people to come to work which would help with staff burn out.

“Since we started this we’ve already had five new trained, qualified, state certified firefighters including two from Pigeon Forge and some from other departments who want to work shifts here,” said Lanier.

The plan is for this half a million dollars to last at least four years, which at that point the department would hope to get more funding from FEMA continue to pay staff members for their time.