In 2004 A.J. Spoone was a gung-ho rookie volunteer for the Jefferson County Rescue Squad. He was 16. Adrenalin exploded when his pager sounded one summer morning at home about a motorcycle accident on I-40 “at the 412” interchange with two people injured. Living in Dandridge, he was close by, and he hopped into his car and headed for the 412.
He was there in less than three minutes, the only first responder there. A man and woman were seriously injured. “I was absolutely scared to death real quick. What can I do? All I had was my CPR training and I was wearing my Superman’s cape and these folks were hurt bad,” he remembers it like it happened yesterday.
“I was not much help and right then and there I promised myself to never be in that situation again. I was helpless. It drove me to where I am today.”
The “real” first responders were there within minutes and the couple, seriously injured, survived.
And about where he is today … Today, this 35-year-old master firefighter for the Knoxville Fire Department, 19 years removed from the 412 call, has just been selected by the Tennessee Ambulance Service Association as the state’s Paramedic of the Year, a major honor.
In addition to his 12 years with KFD, he has continued to work as a critical care paramedic with Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) where it all started for him. “I was completely shocked when I found out about this award,” he said.
Would you care to guess what Spoone was doing last week on his vacation?
He joined other scuba divers as part of the Key Largo-based Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) on dives to coral nursery sites to clean, prune and prepare coral trees for planting. According to the CFR, coral has been in decline on the Key Largo reef for many years due to many factors. A normal reef would expect to be covered in hard and soft corals to around 40%. In Key Largo the reef is down to 2-3% cover and desperately needing help in replanting.
“I dove for three days and I signed up to plant coral reef with the Coral Reef Foundation through a company called Sea Dwellers that takes groups out to plant new reef once a month,” Spoone said. “It’s fun, unique and you’re helping the planet for future generations. It’s a win-win.”
There’s passion inside this man, and it spills into everything he does.
In December 2021, he graduated from Liberty University, earning a bachelor’s degree in applied science and fire services administration and obtained his EMT-Paramedic certifications at Walters State Community College in 2012.
Spoone works at KFD’s Station 16 on Asheville Highway on the Green Shift. “It’s the best shift,” he says. His chief is David Gray.
Spoone says the most difficult situation he’s experienced was in November 2016 – the deadly Gatlinburg fires that swept through the town and mountain residential areas surrounding Gatlinburg. “Our crew of four was the first crew in from outside of Sevier County and it was shocking and scary. We got there at 3 p.m. on November 28, 2016,” he said. “The smoke was massive and was rolling through town. The speed and rate that the fire was spreading and moving was remarkable. It is easily the scariest event I’ve witnessed in my career. No one could outrun it.”
Here are a few fast facts about Spoone:
- Is a member of KFD’s Technical Rescue and Medical Support teams
- Never has been injured on the job
- Most unusual call? “Someone had a contact lens stuck in an eye.”
- Graduated from Jefferson County High in 2006 and sang in a music group.
- Enjoys teaching classes at both KFD and Jefferson County EMS.
It was a tough year for Spoone in 2021. His father, Bill, an electrician, was hit hard by Covid. He spent 23 days at the UT Medical Center but passed away at the age of 63. His mother, Frances, had Covid at the same time but survived and is now enjoying retirement. Being an only child, Spoone was busy helping care for both of them.
When he’s teaching classes, he’s big on things like caring, compassion and doing everything you can do. “My KFD job is the best job I could ever have. Just like everybody else I work with, you just want to help people as much as you can. It’s a higher calling. I always wonder if I have done enough. I always want to do more and give back to my community,” he says. “It’s just who I am.”
And today, he’s doing it without Superman’s cape!
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. If you have someone you think we should consider featuring, please email him at the link with his name.