Investigation underway after Nashville fireworks show began with police still in ‘blast zone’

Regional News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Nashville Fire Department said it will work with Metro police to investigate why the “Let Freedom Sing!” fireworks show in downtown Nashville began before all police personnel were out of the blast zone.

In a statement released Monday morning, Joseph Pleasant, a spokesperson for the Nashville Fire Department said the two departments will review the events to determine how the incident happened and how to prevent similar situations in the future.

“The safety of all personnel and the safety of the public is our department’s number one priority,” Pleasant added.

(Courtesy: City of Nashville)

During a news conference Monday morning, Butch Spyridon, the president and CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation was asked about the incident.

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

“They called PD. They got in, they cleared the building,” he explained. “The communication chain between fire and PD had a missing link that has been corrected. 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 continued, “The helicopter was out of harm’s way. 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,” he added.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Metro police described the events that took place Sunday night:

Prior to the start of the fireworks, NFD Fire Marshal personnel spotted a person on the roof of the Bridge Building. An MNPD helicopter flew to the area and confirmed that there was an individual on the roof.  The fire marshal advised that the show would not begin until the person was off the roof and the building cleared of anyone else. SWAT officers were dispatched to the building and found all the doors locked. They knocked and attempted to look into the building on every level that they could access from the stairwell on the building’s exterior. No one came to any of the doors and they could not see anyone by looking through the windows at that point; however, NFD personnel relayed that Bridge Building security cameras showed people inside. An employee of the Bridge Building was requested to come to the scene and provide access to the interior. As they waited for the employee, officers could see persons through a window on the fourth floor. They were directed to open the door. Instead, they ran further into the building.

Once the employee arrived and the officers gained access into the building, four persons, a Bridge Building employee and three of her friends, were located inside. They were escorted out. Eight SWAT officers then divided into two teams to clear the building to ensure that no one else was inside. They started with the fifth and sixth floors to include the rooftop. While the officers were still in the building and the helicopter remained close by, a security guard apparently relayed to an NFD employee that he was the last one in the building. Without going through command and without checking with MNPD to ensure officers were out of the building, the message was relayed to start the fireworks show. Command was not advised the show had commenced.

Due to the close proximity of the professional firework mortal shells and the fallout from detonated fireworks, the eight SWAT members sheltered inside the Bridge Building until the conclusion of the fireworks show.

Upon being surprised by the show starting, the helicopter crew took immediate action to quickly move away.

No charges were placed against the four persons cleared from the building last night, although their actions continue to be under review as part of an open investigation.

The NFD is leading the review of the miscommunication that caused this situation.

Metro Councilmember, Freddie O’Connell addressed the situation in a series of tweets.

“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. We need to understand what happened,” he wrote.

O’Connell continued, “Nashville’s first responders have begun encrypting emergency communications. 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,” he added.

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