Project Nashville: Sounding the alarm on fire station safety

FOX 17 News

Project Nashville continues FOX 17's year long in-depth look into Nashville's growth and how it affects your safety and quality of life. The investigation into the Nashville Fire Department and the revelation Nashville could be 20 fire stations short of what’s really needed to keep us safe continues.

No one wants to think about our home catching fire.

If the worst happened, like Janna Black, you’d expect firefighters to get there quickly. Black, a lifelong Nashvillian says, “I never really thought about that where we're located if there's not a fire hall nearby.”

Well, there's not.

Black is tucked away on the West Side in Bellevue, just off I-40, in one of dozens of new neighborhoods popping up across Music City. She says the growth here is pretty unbelievable.

It's densely populated and developers are building homes closer together because of a land shortage, which firefighters consider more dangerous if there is a fire.

So, FOX 17 News timed it, driving from Black's house to her nearest fire hall, Station 37. Over the river and through the woods, it’s a beautiful drive no doubt, but it is long. It took us 12 minutes.

Nashville Fire Union Local 140 President Mark Young points out, “We've only added one fire station in the city since 2001."

That was well before this growth wave started.

We have 41 stations now. 40 back in 2001 with a population the U.S. Census Bureau confirms is growing by nearly 100 people a day. Young says, “In my opinion, we're probably 20 fire stations short of where we should be with a city this size.”

You heard right: 20!

When we talked to Black about the issue of more homes being built further from existing fire stations and no plans to add more, she responded, “Definitely seems like a problem if you ask me.”

Firefighters tell FOX 17 News they could probably get to Black's house a little faster than we did, but most of this route is a two lane winding highway, with few spots for drivers to pull off for firetrucks to pass. FOX 17 News analyzed the fire departments in Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville. Young says Nashville is considered the smallest fire department of the four major cities. That’s what FOX 17 News data supports as well.

Nashville has 41 stations. Chattanooga on the other hand with a population half the size of Nashville's has 46 fire stations. Both cities comprise roughly 500 square miles. Young adds, “We're growing everything else, but not public safety!"

Memphis has 90 fire halls, 49 more than Nashville and only a couple hundred thousand more people covering 785 square miles to our 526. Young points out the population of Nashville is increasing while the population of Memphis is decreasing.

Knoxville with 230,000 fewer people than Nashville has almost the same number of fire halls and covers the same square mileage. Young explains, “Our city is growing and neighborhoods are being built further away from a fire station, response times to that area is definitely delayed.”

Our previous Project Nashville investigation shows our firefighters are answering nearly triple the calls compared to two decades ago, but with fewer people.

Black shares her final thoughts, “To me that's not safe if we don't have the amount of firefighters and equipment that we need. It is a little unsafe, but it is nice to see it bloom the way that it is, growing up here.”

Nearly 100 new people moving to Nashville every day and Black understands the attraction to the city she's always loved.

That brings us to response times and the subsequent effect on your homeowners insurance rates. We're continuing to investigate growth and our Nashville Fire Department as well as any other issue you want us to tackle every Wednesday on FOX 17 News at 9. You can submit your ideas for Project Nashville on our website or call our tip line at 615- 259- 5631.

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