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Nashville Police Caught In Fireworks Blast Zone, Fire Chief Refuses To Stop Show

Nashville, TN – Nashville’s police and fire departments are investigating how multiple police officers were caught inside the “blast zone” for the largest fireworks display in the United States when the fireworks began on Sunday night.

The incident occurred just before 9:30 p.m. on July 4 when the “Let Freedom Sing” fireworks show was scheduled to begin, according to Scoop Nashville.

Suspected trespassers were spotted inside the Bridge Building that was inside the blast/fallout zone area around where the fireworks would be shot off, so officials put the incendiary display on hold and sent in Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) officers to clear the building

Audio from police and fire radio traffic during the incident said that the suspects were on multiple levels of the building, on several patio areas, and on the roof, Scoop Nashville reported.

The trespassers evaded officers and police tried for 30 minutes to detain them, unsuccessfully, while the fireworks display was delayed.

A police helicopter was brought in to assist with spotting the trespassers on some of the patios and via the windows on the big building, Scoop Nashville reported.

Then all of a sudden, as officers searched the building, fireworks started exploding all around them.

“Stay in the building near an exit where you have cover from falling debris,” a supervisor ordered the officers over the radio.

“We’re going to shelter in place, the amount of fallout is not very good right now,” another officer responded.

Another officer added that his group was going to “shelter in place” on the Third Floor, the audio recording showed.

“I guess the strangers in the building was enough to delay the show but officers in the building wasn’t,” an angry-sounding officer said over the radio.

“Yeah, we’re addressing that now,” a supervisor identified by others on the air as Lt. Duncan replied.

“Yeah, somebody needs to answer for that. Because we’re stuck in the building and we can’t get out,” another officer added.

“Just FYI, we have not reported that you’re clear of that building,” the dispatcher told Lt. Duncan. “Still waiting on you to let us know that. So I don’t know how that came about.”

“10-4, we’re not going to report cuz we’re still in the building,” the lieutenant replied.

“SOD to Aviation,” Lt. Duncan called the helicopter over the radio. “What was your location when they began the fireworks by surprise?”

“We were about one-quarter orbit from being directly over where they launched from,” an officer in the helicopter reported. “We were over the [unintelligible] not quite yet to the river, but we were closer than we definitely would have liked to have been.”

Then somebody else reported in to Lt. Duncan that a request to stop the fireworks show had been denied.

“Just wanted to make you aware, I have spoken with command at EOC,” the lieutenant was told over the radio. “The fire chief does not want to stop the show. Said it’s not necessary, just to shelter in place in the building. That’s according to the Fire Marshal.”

“Trying to find out who started the show, and who told them it was safe to start the show, given we had a helicopter and officers in that building,” the person reporting in continued. “So I apologize and I’ll follow up. Just, are you guys safe right now?”

“Yeah until the mortar shell hits us, we’ll be fine,” an officer replied in the audio recording. “But ya know, the whole reason they couldn’t start this show was a civilian in this building, and now you’ve got even more people in this building. So whoever made that decision needs to be fired.”

Then the dispatcher contacted Lt. Duncan again with more bad news, the audio showed.

“I’m looking at cameras,” he said. “It looks like the ATV you guys took to get up there is covered in fallout from the fireworks. Can you make sure you snap a couple pictures of that before you leave?”

None of the officers were injured despite having been put in very dangerous situations.

Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation CEO Butch Spyridon tried to explain the confusion that led to the dangerous error on Monday morning, WKRN reported.

“Fire Marshal teams spotted some individuals in the Bridge Building,” Spyridon said. “I believe they were employees of somebody, I don’t know who they are, so they delayed the show.”

“They called PD,” he continued. “They got in, they cleared the building.”

Then Spyridon blamed the error on communications problems, WKRN reported.

“The communication chain between fire and PD had a missing link that has been corrected,” he said. “They’ve already improved that, but it was simply a one side thought it was clear, and the other side didn’t get that message.”

Spyridon claimed all of the officers were safe before the fireworks display began, despite the audio recordings to the contrary.

“The helicopter was out of harm’s way,” he explained. “The personnel that were in the building were directed to go to a specific location at the bottom and that they would be safe, and that it was better to keep the show going. They’ve worked it out.”

“Public safety is always first,” the city’s tourism boss added.

But not everyone was satisfied with Spyridon’s explanation, WKRN reported.

Metropolitan Nashville Councilmember Freddie O’Connell called out the city in a series of tweets on Monday morning.

But instead of expressing concern for the safety of the officers, O’Connell used the incident to complain about encrypted radio communications and to call for better transparency from first responders, WKRN reported.

“It sounds like some police officers responding to unauthorized people in a building in the fireworks blast zone got trapped there for the duration of the show,” O’Connell tweeted. “We need to understand what happened.”

“Nashville’s first responders have begun encrypting emergency communications,” the lawmaker continued. “I’m concerned about what this means for transparency and am encouraging #MetroCouncil’s Public Safety and Personnel (also Information) committees to have a joint meeting to review this development.”

“If not for the unencrypted channel that revealed the events of last night, the rest of us might never have become aware of officers trapped in a dangerous situation,” O’Connell added.

Written by
Sandy Malone

Managing Editor - Twitter/@SandyMalone_ - Prior to joining The Police Tribune, Sandy wrote the Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal and was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. More recently, she was an internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast (BRIDES), The Huffington Post, and Monsters and Critics. Sandy is married to a retired police captain and former SWAT commander.

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Written by Sandy Malone

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