The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners meeting turned passionate Monday, Sept. 14 as members debated what to do about Mt. Juliet’s firefighter shortage.
The meeting opened with a number of citizens comments, including one man named Byron Kamp, who presented some chilling research about Mt. Juliet’s emergency response capabilities.
“I’ve done some research. The International City Managers Association announced recently the average city over 10,000 population now has 1.52 full-time firefighters per 1,000. The National Fire Protection Association has identified as of 2018, the U.S. average is 1.81 firefighters per 1,000 population.” Kamp also shared his research of the firefighters per population of the areas surrounding Nashville: Brentwood – 1.56 per 1,000; La Vergne – 1.4 per 1,000; Germantown – 1.56 per 1,000; Lebanon – 2.0 per 1,000. Meanwhile, Mt. Juliet, a growing city of almost 40,000 people, has only 21 full-time firefighters—a rate of 0.55 firefighters per 1,000 citizens. According to national standards, Mt. Juliet should have no less than 38 full-time firefighters to meet its community’s needs.
Kamp expressed his concern over the decision by the city earlier this year to not fund six first responder positions this fiscal year, even though the city already did not meet the national average for firefighters per population at that time.
“The city of Mt. Juliet is not meeting the needs of its residents,” said Kamp. “In a recent column in The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet, our City Manager, Kenny Martin, wrote about school zone and bus safety. Quoting him, he wrote, ‘Human life is our most precious asset, and we must do all we can to protect it.’” (Volume 40, Number 33 – Aug. 19, 2020)
Kamp’s comments did not come at an inopportune time—already on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting was an amendment to the city budget to allow the hiring of nine additional full-time firefighters.
When it was time to address the ordinance, another man took the podium: Mt. Juliet Fire Chief Jamie Luffman.
Luffman began by clarifying that the six first responders removed from the budget were wholly his decision, and not that of the Board of Commissioners. He defended his decision by stating it was made in response to uncertain finance numbers in the face of both the March tornadoes and the COVID-19 pandemic, and that these first responders were not deemed essential at the time. Now, the city has available funds to hire not only those six first responders, but an additional three.
Although the six firefighters were not deemed essential previously, Luffman urged the Board of Commissioners to replenish the number of firefighters now, citing a number of empty seats on each of the city’s fire trucks.
However, Mayor Ed Hagerty questioned the necessity for these firefighters, referring to a letter he received from Luffman three weeks prior, which stated, “The current staff of seven firefighters per shift can and is handling the current volume of calls for service.” Luffman clarified that he was only referring to medical and non-emergency calls; the current staff is not adequate to handle fires, disasters, and other emergencies.
Hagerty remained unswayed, and motioned that the budget be amended to allow for these new firefighters, but only six months prior to the opening of the new fire station near Green Hill High School, currently projected to be completed in January 2022. “This board is committed to staffing that new station, and I know that we will do that at the appropriate time.”
Luffman urged the Mayor that the appropriate time is immediately, and District 1 Commissioner Ray Justice passionately agreed. “It’s about the people who are in the city of Mt. Juliet who deserve to be protected,” Justice said. He asked the Mayor how many people have to die before it becomes the appropriate time. “Does it take one?”
After a heated debate between Hagerty and Justice, the motion was voted on and failed to pass.Justice then motioned to proceed with the original ordinance and amend the budget to allow for nine new firefighters immediately, which passed 4-1.
Luffman says that even with the additional nine first responders, the Mt. Juliet Fire Department will not have enough firefighters to meet NFPD standards, but the budget doesn’t currently allow for more. He hopes to be able to hire an additional six at a future date.
The city of Mt. Juliet had previously approved the purchase of land for the building of a new fire station near Green Hill High School. Luffman says that the nine additional firefighters will be assigned to existing stations, and then assigned to the new station once it is completed.