IMG_6104.JPG

The City of Brentwood has entered into an interlocal agreement with the Williamson County government and the city of Franklin to address the growing threat of flooding in the county and region with the creation of a combined Swiftwater rescue team.

The agreement was approved by the Brentwood City Commission on Aug. 8, and the combined team will be known as the Williamson County Inter-Agency Swiftwater Rescue Team.

The new initiative will be aimed at providing a “coordinated, multi-disciplined approach to the management of minor, major or catastrophic disasters and large-scale or complex incidents involving Swiftwater rescue and floodwater reconnaissance and evacuations.”

Brentwood Fire and Rescue Division Chief Nick Adams said in a phone call that the historic 2010 flood that impacted much of Middle Tennessee sparked the creation of BFR’s Swiftwater rescue team, which was crucial to rescuing dozens of citizens from flash flooding in 2021.

BFR personnel have also had experience alongside first responders from across the region as part of task force teams that have deployed to neighboring counties and states for flood and hurricane response from South Carolina to Texas.

Flood-5.jpg

17-year-old Dodson Avrit and his parents Matt and Lisa Avrit stand inside of their flood-damaged home and look out at the swollen Little Harpeth River that backs up to their Brentwood home. Hours earlier in the dark of night they were rescued on a Brentwood Fire and Rescue Swift Water Rescue Team raft from more than four feet of rushing water, six inches of which entered their home.

“The great thing is that we've been doing this for several years, so we already know how these events take place, what requirements are needed, so it's allowing us to help other cities within the state of Tennessee prepare other departments,” Adams said.

In 2020, the Nolensville Volunteer Fire Department, now known as Nolensville Fire and Rescue, also began to explore establishing a Swiftwater rescue team following flash flooding that caused significant damage to the Nolensville Historic School and Museum.

“Probably the biggest lesson [we’ve learned] is getting ahead of it,” Adams said. “When we when we have an idea that these storms are coming, we bring personnel in early just so we're already ahead of the game. We have our boats located in our trailers situated within the high-impact areas.”

BFR’s experience over the past decade training and responding to flooding incidents has given them an insight into how to not only respond but how to prepare for future incidents.

Adams said that a huge part of making any kind of emergency response successful, especially when combining multiple agencies, is teamwork.

“Partnerships are very critical,” Adams said. “As an interagency team, we train four times a year as a team and we do individual training at the department.”

Hurricane Sally Tennessee Task Force 2 091420

BFR members made up part of Tennessee Task Force 2 which deployed to the Gulf Coast in response to Hurricane Sally in 2020.

Some of that training happens in classroom settings, while crews also use natural resources as training grounds such as the Harpeth River, Percy Priest Lake and the Ocoee River.

“The first time you want to meet is definitely not on a deployment, so you know the strengths and weaknesses of each team, the crew members of each team, and you become almost like a family within a family,” Adams said.

Climate change and the resulting changes in migration, population and urban development has caused an increased risk of flooding worldwide, with the BBC reporting that by 2030, millions more people around the globe will be at risk of increased flooding.

Scientific American reports that over the next three decades, the cost of flood damage in the United States “is on pace to rise 26% due to climate change.”

That development is also impacting Williamson County with new neighborhoods and shopping centers popping up every year, meaning that first responders have to be aware of the treacherous environment below the waterline when responding to a flooding incident.

“We never know what's beneath the surface of the water, especially when we're in neighborhoods or shopping centers,” Adams said. “We have boats that are motorized, and then in some cases we have to physically walk outside of the boat and pull them behind us.”

This month marked the one-year anniversary of flash flooding that killed 20 people in Waverly, a disaster that researchers at Vanderbilt University’s School of Engineering said is “an example of climate change impacts to come.”

And while local agencies are preparing and in investing in the people and tools needed in flooding incidents, the unknown realities facing all of us with the impacts of climate change will undoubtedly continue to pose new challenges to citizens and governments alike.

Adams said that first responders are prepared to deploy when needed, but asked the public to be prepared for disasters and to help first responders by heeding warnings from community and government leaders ahead of time.

“If they have that opportunity to evacuate prior to a large event like this," he said, "that lessens the impact on [all of us]l for possible loss of life for situations like that."