It has been one year since Chris Clark was officially installed as La Vergne’s second fire chief and since then there have been many internal and external changes that Chief Clark believes will help the department succeed over time.
The department has been able to find a more cost-effective way to make repairs to fire apparatus. The city’s two fleet department personnel have made an effort to learn more about fire equipment like rescue trucks and fire engines so they are able to make repairs locally rather than find a contractor to fix various problems. The changes have effectively saved the department more than $150,000 that can be utilized in other ways. Not only does this program save money but also decreases time out of service, fuel and manpower. In the past, the fire department had to deliver the apparatus that needed repair to Dickson, Tenn., which took two personnel out of service. There, the apparatus would wait in line for repair and then they would have to pick up the apparatus and deliver it back to La Vergne.
The administration department was reorganized to eliminate the position of assistant fire chief so that they could restructure the department’s leadership. The department also raised the pay levels for battalion chiefs and expanded the pay grades between positions to encourage firefighters to get more training so they can move up their career ladder.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen was also able to create a new life safety officer position due to the change. “The new life safety officer focuses on preventing casualties and fires so that we can make the community safer,” says Chief Clark. “The life safety officer works under the fire marshal and we hope to continue to expand this department as time goes on.” The life safety officer also conducts fire inspections in commercial structures through the city.
In 2018, firefighters conducted complimentary fire inspections for commercial businesses and found 98% failed the inspection. In 2019, that number decreased to 52%. “Our biggest priority is fire prevention,” says Fire Marshal Curtis Brinkley. “We want to be proactive, not reactive. If our codes are being met that gives us a better chance of keeping fires under control when they do break out.”
There has been a push for increased training among firefighters in the department. “We don’t only respond to fires anymore,” says Clark. “Firefighters are encouraged to attend EMT and fire officer school to improve their skills and knowledge. Firefighters also undergo other training exercises to best prepare them when they’re called to a fire or rescue incidents. “We also want our team to be healthier so we are implementing new exercises to make sure our department is fit for duty.”
Medical calls make up 76% of the call volume for the department. Clark says right now “the biggest thing for us is to bring a new culture to the fire service. We often are called to assist with medical calls. These medical calls range from delivery of babies, heart attacks, strokes, overdoses, and others. We have to have an all-hazards approach and diversify our training more than ever before.” There’s also a new reporting management system to help them capture data and track trends. The program is even web-based to assist crews when they’re on a scene.
Recently, there has been an update to dispatch protocol to allow for quicker response times when someone calls 911. Our telecommunicators now provide the zone that incident is located. In the near future, we will be implementing signaling individual stations for the call. We expect this change to help firefighters avoid sleep deprivation.
The chief has updated the Fire Department Standard Operating Guidelines. In the past, the fire department responded to all car accidents that an airbag deployed and now the department responds only if there is an injury or an imminent hazard. This reduces traffic congestion by not having a fire truck in the middle of the road if it is not needed. Chief Clark has also made updates to make sure that everyone in his department is treated equally and fairly.
The department has also continued to improve upon its personnel protective equipment (PPE). Each firefighter is now equipped with bullet-resistant vests and helmets. They have also received new medical packs for when they respond to highly volatile or active scenes. All of the “active shooter” personal protective equipment (PPE), medical supplies and packs were purchased through grants. This has saved the city approximately $50,000. Besides the cost, it provides better protection for our personnel.
Other grants that the fire department has received have helped purchase rescue equipment. The most recent grant awarded to the department was a $7,500 grant from Enbridge in 2019 for rope rescue equipment. The department also hopes to receive a mobile $10,000 HVAC system that will be applied to a new emergency shelter that was part of another Homeland Security grant. This HVAC system will be able to heat or cool the shelter during inclement weather or during large scale incidents. The department utilizes this shelter system during hazardous material decontamination, base camp housing, command post and other large scale events.
They have also implemented a new PPE inspection program to make sure their equipment is up to date and in compliance with safety regulations. The life safety officer inspects firefighter’s gear on a regular basis and, if the gear needs repair, the torn gear is repaired by a certified tech and returned back to service at a cost-effective price. This will help sustain the 10-year life of the gear and better protect our firefighters. A new coat and pants for a firefighter is approximately $3,500.
New plans have been drawn up for the new Station 41 which will be located on Old Nashville Highway where the current Fire Administration building is. This new fire station will replace the station on Stones River Road and will also serve as the new administration offices for the fire department administration team. It will also be able to house multiple fire apparatus and can serve as an emergency communications center in the event of severe weather or large scale incidents. Chief Clark has also worked to develop a 10-year plan to account for the growth the city is seeing. In the plan he outlines what the fire department will have to do to keep up with the City’s growing need for services.
Clark was officially installed as fire chief on January 2, 2019. “I’m blessed to be here and in this position,” says Chief Clark. “I’m grateful to those who work in our department and for those who truly make my job very easy.”