For the last 10 years, the Tullahoma Fire Department (TFD) has been assisting homeowners in Tullahoma to protect themselves in the event of a fire. Thanks to community support and grant funding from the state fire marshal’s office, TFD has been able to provide free smoke detectors to anyone living inside the city limits who requests one.

According to Fire Chief Richard Shasteen, TFD first launched the free smoke alarm program in 2009.

“We had some calls from people requesting help with smoke alarms, and we didn’t have a line item in our budget,” Shasteen said.

Then the Tullahoma Kiwanis Club stepped in and offered to help raise funds for the firefighters to purchase some smoke alarms to give out to residents.

“The first time they [the Kiwanis] did it, they gave us $300,” Shasteen said. The department took that money to Southern Electric, where they were able to buy several alarms, and thus a new program was born.

Though the funding source has changed from a crowd-funded operation to a state-sponsored grant program, the mission remains the same.

“Now we’re coming up on the 10-year anniversary,” Shasteen said, and he wants the community members to know that if they need new alarms they only need to call the fire department.

In particular, Shasteen said, those who had free alarms installed by the fire department in 2009 should call for an update.

“Any smoke alarms that we put in have a 10-year life expectancy, according to the manufacturer,” he said.


Grant funding

Since 2012, the department’s smoke alarm operation has been funded through the state fire marshal’s office, Shasteen said.

“They have a grant that buys us smoke alarms, and they provide them to us,” he said. “As we use them [the alarms], they replace them.”

Currently the department gets 204 alarms from the state fire marshal’s office every six to eight weeks. This is double the original number of alarms the state provided to the department, Shasteen said.

The reason for the increase, he added, was how frequently the department gives out the alarms to residents.

“We were only getting 102, but we’ve put in so many every month, now they give us twice as many,” he said. “We go through quite a few.”


Increased fire prevention

Having the smoke alarm program has been a great asset for the community, Shasteen said, because it helps keep everyone safe.

“We feel like that’s a direct reflection of our reduction in structure fires,” he said. In fact, there were only six structure fires throughout the whole of 2018, he said, crediting the low number to the number of people with smoke alarms in their homes and businesses.

“We feel like people are catching the fires early,” he said. “The smoke alarm will notify them they’ve left something on the stove or they’ve got a heater malfunctioning or something, and they get the problem taken care of before their house is on fire.”


Smoke alarm save

Not only do smoke alarms prevent property destruction, but they can also save lives.

The Tullahoma Fire Department is credited with having the first 2019 smoke alarm save in the entire state thanks to the department’s program.

According to the state fire marshal’s office, the department responded to a house fire around midnight on Jan. 19. When crews arrived on the scene, only heavy smoke was found rather than a fire. All three residents of the home had evacuated safely.

After an investigation of the incident, the cause of the fire was determined to be “careless smoking on medical oxygen,” according to the report.

Luckily, those in the house were notified of the smoke buildup thanks to a department-installed smoke alarm. The alarm in question was reportedly installed by TFD in October 2017.

A resident was awakened by the alarm and found a lit cigarette had burned a hole in the oxygen tubing, the report states. The fire had spread to the bed, but the resident was able to extinguish it before alerting the other residents and calling 911.

The state fire marshal’s office not only recognized the incident as the first save incident of 2019 but also as the “first documented save we’ve ever had where the fire started due to careless smoking near medical oxygen.”


New alarms

Anyone needing a new smoke alarm installed in their home need only call the fire department. Free alarms are available to any resident or business inside the city limits. The department will also install the alarm for you if needed, Shasteen said. For more information on free smoke alarms, call the fire department at 455-0936.

Erin McCullough may be reached at