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For one weekend a year, Bonnaroo is one of the state’s largest cities, boasting a sell-out crowd of 80,000 festivalgoers, plus vendors, guests and workers.
Through that time, shifts of about 14 local firefighters, mostly Hillsboro Volunteer Fire Department members but also aided by all the area departments, provide fire protection for a city the size of Santa Monica, Calif.
Hillsboro firefighter Aaron Brown said, “It’s in our coverage area, so we have a contract with that we provide them fire protection onsite.”
Brown explained that state mass gathering laws require the fire protection.
“In order to get a mass gathering permit, they have to have onsite fire protection.”
The job keeps the firefighters busy, not just during the festival, but for the days leading up to when the gates are open. With the diversity of a festival, that can mean almost anything.
“You name it we respond to it.”
Mostly, it’s an ever-flow of calls like campers blocking fire lanes, leaky propane tanks and small fires, even vehicle fires.
“There are no open flames allowed, so if we respond and see a campfire, we just go ahead and put it out. A lot of calls are from carbon monoxide alarms going off because of propane tank leaks.”
Early Friday morning, a main-avenue dumpster caught fire. Brown said that although it was a relatively minor fire the department rolled a truck to aid the safety personnel on scene attacking it with portable extinguishers.
inside and outside the gates
Even while at Bonnaroo, the department still maintains coverage for the communities it protects.
“We still cover our outside area just like we would any other time,” Brown said.
His words were tested Friday, when the Coffee County communication center dispatched a structure fire call to a home in Hillsboro.
The department arrived to fortunately find that the call was a grease fire that had been extinguished by the homeowner.
It is important also that not any one department is taxed too heavily.
“We usually keep six of our guys [at Bonnaroo] and pull from surrounding departments. People volunteer from Manchester, Tullahoma and some of the other volunteer fire departments.
“We try not to deplete one resource. We try to pull from the [whole] area.”
Brown said that spare apparatus is kept onsite in case for quicker off-site response.
“We typically overstaff the Bonnaroo site, that way if we have an outside emergency, we can throw two or three guys on a truck and get out the gate. It’s equally as fast coming from here or outside the gate.”
Brown was quick to point out that there are still firefighters outside the gate ready to respond as normal.
He said that the effort includes automatic mutual aid that can come to aid inside the gates.
For quick response to small incidents that might be difficult to reach in a large truck, Moore County Fire loaned a six-wheeled UTV with a fire rescue skid. It features pumps, hose reel and a foam system.
Firefighters also make regular patrols on ATVs and other UTVs.
The rain early in the week made this year less dry, but the potential for fire was still prevalent. Firefighters were stationed backstage for shows and fireworks.
Brown said that the department worked closely with state fire marshal personnel also onsite.
Chief Jerry Brown said that Hillsboro has provided fire protection every Bonnaroo.