It was a celebration honoring and saying “thanks” to a big group of emergency first responders. They arrived on their motorcycles … in their patrol cars … and fire engines … and ambulances. More than 75 in all. It was a few moments on a morning to applaud them, to let them know that we know that while serving our community their lives are on the line and can change in a heartbeat.
They were gathered inside Rural Metro Fire’s Station 41 on Campbell Station Road last Tuesday. District 14 state Rep. Jason Zachary used this backdrop for his third annual First Responders Appreciation Event.
As Zachary was welcoming everyone and praising the first responders, the speaker in the station blared an alarm. Two Rural Metro firefighters were in their engine within seconds and headed out, lights and sirens engaged. The “emergency” was a call from a home-bound invalid who needed help and what they did, in the mind of that person, may have been life-saving.
As the siren faded in the distance, Zachary told the First responders: “We’re here today because you guys don’t get the appreciation you deserve and we want to spend an hour today supporting you and loving you.”
Rural Metro first responders were there along with patrol units and the motorcycles and deputies from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. Knoxville Police Department officers were on hand along with Priority Ambulance and the Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad.
Zachary read an excerpt from a famous speech that President Theodore Roosevelt read in Paris in 1910 after his presidency. In part, that speech speaks to the heroism and unselfish nature of those who keep us safe.
“… It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood … the man who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Following the event, Zachary explained why this celebration is so important to him: “I’ve always had a heart for our first responders. When I was elected, it was a time when they were taking heat for a few negative events. All our officers were being thrown into the same bucket. I felt it was important to let them know how much we support them and that they truly are the unsung heroes of our community.”
The guest speaker was former University of Tennessee and Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar. Earlier this year, after neck and shoulder surgery, Hochevar retired to his farm outside of Knoxville after nine seasons with the Royals. It was bittersweet. Today, he’s working with Peterson’s Outdoor Ministries out of Webb City, Missouri, a ministry that works with and supports veterans.
“When I look up and see everyone here, I see nothing but heroes. Everybody has a longing to belong, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to be a part of the community, and that’s who you all are,” Hochevar said. “I can’t even imagine the courage required to go out and do your jobs, day after day. You grind it out and take on the day head on, day after day.”
Shoreline Church and the Rev. Jason Hayes were there again to help make this event special. Each first responder was given a goody bag prepared by the church. The bags included pictures drawn by children to celebrate these heroes. Donated gifts included gift cards, a Phillip Fulmer autographed football, a basketball signed by UT coach Rick Barnes, and a Luke Hochevar Kansas City Royals jersey.
The final speaker was former Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. Just as he began, that Rural Metro engine that had pulled out just after 10 a.m. backed into a space in front of the station. Burchett paused.
“Thank you for what you do. I have told our daughter Isabel that every time you hear a siren, say a prayer,” Burchett said.