SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Changes are in the works for an East Tennessee fire department in a community that is seeing changes of its own.

Walden’s Creek Fire Department got its start in 1977 as a volunteer operation handling emergency calls in a part of Sevier County that for many years still had a remote backcountry feel. However, more people are calling Walden’s Creek home or a vacation destination leading to more calls.

“Six years ago this department, we were running approximately 129 calls a year. Well, in the five to six-year time span, we’re seeing a 60% to 100% increase year over year. This year we’ll be on track to make right over 700 calls,” said Battalion Chief Jon Lanier.  

Walden’s Creek Fire Department has been a volunteer fire department for almost 50 years but with the growth of Sevier County and the increase of tourism, the money they receive through donations just isn’t enough.

To help meet demand, the fire department applied for a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant through FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security.

“Operationally, we are funded through donations and a small donation from the Sevier county government, but what that only covers is our vehicles, our equipment, and the insurance on our building. Our operational fund, it doesn’t allow us to provide anything beyond that. So we applied for the SAFER Grant, the year before last, and we were notified earlier this year that we received it,” Lanier explained.

The SAFER Grant allows Walden’s Creek to hire one full-time and several part-time firefighters.

“There’s also a portion that we’re just starting to roll out which is a scholarship, up to five scholarships per year, up to $5500 in tuition, [and] $2200 in books, labs, and fees. And the way they would pay us back for that is they would join our department and they would owe us 20 hours of standby or work per week,” Lanier added.

That scholarship is helping young people like Timothy McDaniel who’s a third-generation firefighter.

“It’s a huge opportunity for me. Being able to be here at the station and have time to work a full shift, and be paid, I have time to do my studies for my commission test and get more certifications,” said McDaniel.

The scholarship is helping McDaniel reach his goals and helps the department respond more efficiently to calls.

If you’re interested in applying for one of these scholarships, you can contact the department chief by email at or by phone at 865-429-8258.

Walden’s Creek Fire does stress that this grant only helps with some employee pay. They still need donations for other day-to-day expenses.