How Trevecca grad William Swann is making a difference in Nashville
In 1995, William Swann (’18) joined the ranks at the Nashville Fire Department. After a few years in the military, he was looking for direction, and he said he felt something pulling him, but he didn’t know what.
He only knew he wanted to serve his community.
“The fire department is an entity called on when people’s lives are in trouble. Our job is to be the problem-solvers and turn whatever is upside down as close to right side up as we can,” he says. “[And in doing that], one of the best parts about my job is you realize there’s got to be a God. There’s got to be a supreme being, a maker somewhere out there—there would be no way you could possibly explain vehicles mangled up on the side of the road, and the person standing outside the car just fine. It helps you see how fragile life is, but [also] how resilient we are when we stand together. That itself helps you realize how valuable we are to each other.”
After almost 25 years of service with the fire department, Swann, interim director chief of the Nashville Fire Department, says he felt that same pull to serve his community, but this time in a deeper way. He wanted to draw on the connection and the resilience of Nashville that he sees daily in his work, and to do that, he knew he’d need a little help.
That’s where he says Trevecca came in.
“I had an associate degree, and I’ve done a lot of trainings and classes that were relevant to my work. I was sort of content with my learning because it was all related to my job, but what woke me was when I asked myself, ‘Am I being the best I can be?’ I came to Trevecca, and the program harnessed my beliefs and my foundations. I loved that,” he says. “Trevecca was a great experience for me, and I think it would be for anybody. It’s set up to help people better themselves in an environment that’s safe, and, like we do at the fire station, you and your cohort work hard together, eat together, live together. All of a sudden... the family atmosphere just starts to come out... and you start stripping away where you’re from in life— you’re focusing on the person.”
EQUIPPED TO LEAD
Now a graduate of the Bachelor of Arts in management and human relations program with Trevecca’s School of Graduate and Continuing Studies (SGCS), Swann said he is better equipped to lead in his department and do his best work for Nashville. His mission in serving is to mirror the communities he sees at the rehouse and on Trevecca’s campus with the rest of Nashville and to share all that he’s learned with as many as possible.
“Connection is letting neighbors see and hear your story and giving them guidance and support. We learned of this example in class of these two businessmen who are successful and have formatted this company, and they got together to talk about expanding and training new people. One of the owners said, ‘I don’t know if we should share our trade secrets in case they leave us.’ The other guy said, ‘What if we don’t, and they stay with us?’” Swann recalls. “The wealthiest place is the graveyard because people die with so much wisdom, and they’re scared to share it because someone else may have it. It’s my mission to die with nothing left because I’ve given my all—my knowledge and my wealth and my stories.”
Pam Monjar, student success adviser with the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies, served as Swann’s adviser while he was in the program, and she said that desire to be a servant leader is evident in all that Swann does.
“Chief Swann has amazing perseverance and such a kind spirit and big heart, and he’s passionate about his community,” she says. “You can see a sparkle in his eye when he describes his work, and [he knows that] community and connection contribute to strength among the citizens of Nashville. We work to teach the Trevecca family to touch the lives of those in the community by being and sharing God’s love and hope, and Chief Swann is a true joy.”
Scott Lively, the NFD chief training officer, went through training at the Fire Academy with Swann 23 years ago and works with him daily to prepare recruits for service. As the parent of a current Trevecca student and a member of Swann’s cohort, Lively knows well that sense of connection Swann leans on in his work.
“He really understands his position and the role he plays within the community, and he always remembers people and makes them feel welcome,” Lively says. “He’s been on the streets of Nashville with the rest of the department every step of the way.”
Lenny Manning, NFD operations fire commander, agrees. Manning has been with the NFD for 28 years and says Swann’s commitment to his community and his team is evident every day in his work.
“One of the best things about him is that Chief Swann doesn’t stay locked in his office— he can be seen all over the city promoting the department and getting to know his community,” Manning says.
Lively says Swann instituted a mentoring program with area high schools to expose students to the work of the department with the hope of empowering Nashville’s next generation.
“If you want to know how America is going to look in [20 years], you look at the playground,” Swann says. “To empower our local kids and to stay connected, we go to high schools with a group of men and women who act as mentors to students who need it. Sometimes someone just needs someone else to help guide them. When a child looks at you and says they could never do something, we want to be the ones to step in with a positive message.”
Swann says it’s his hope for the future to continue collaborating with his department to expand on what he and his team can offer to Nashville.
“The thing that makes the department so great is everyone having that servant heart and mindset. The nature of the call doesn’t matter— the point is someone needs help, and we are trained to help in some way,” he says. “We may see on one call what the average person doesn’t see in a lifetime, but it’s not about what you see. It’s about what you can do when you get there. Your mission is to help, no matter what you run into. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cat in a tree or a house fire—our mission is always that we’re there to help.
“And at the end of the day, I’m just Will Swann,” he continued. “The one who has done everything is God.”
Bailey Basham is a recent Trevecca graduate and currently works as a freelance journalist. She loves writing, browsing Pinterest for new recipes to try and spending time with her dogs Ruthie (after the candy bar) and Pico (last name, de Gallo).