It is a question with an answer that can reveal a great deal about someone: “Why do you do what you do?” A first-responder firefighter is not exactly an easy gig. In this case it is a question asked of a 16-year veteran of the Knoxville Fire Department (KFD), Capt. Brad Anthony Elliott, a community servant, a leader, a man of many skills and his faith.
“I guess my answer to why I do this is that I’ve always lived by this quote from John Wesley – ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you can,’” Elliott said.
Wesley, of course, is the founder of the modern-day United Methodist church, an English cleric, theologian, evangelist and Anglican priest who came to the English colony of Georgia to spread the word of God.
As a lifelong Methodist, Elliott was reared in Jonesboro, Arkansas, before his family moved to Memphis when he was in the second grade. There his family joined the Emmanuel United Methodist Church. Today, the Elliott family of four are members of the Church Street United Methodist Church.
Elliott, 45, is the captain on Squad 20 at the West Hills Fire Station 20. He’s been there for about a year following a year at the KFD Training Center helping educate and break in the 2022 recruit class. And in March 2022 he was promoted to captain.
He has worked at six other firehalls in his career – drove Rescue 1 at the Downtown Headquarters station, Station 4 in East Knoxville on Olive Street, Station 13 in South Knoxville, Station 7 in Lonsdale, Station 15 in Fountain City and Station 5 in Mechanicsville.
Following his 1998 graduation from Houston High in Memphis, he came to Knoxville to attend the University of Tennessee. He had considered being a veterinarian and working with dairy cattle. In 2003 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal science.
During his freshman year in 1999, he met a young lady from Flow Wood, Mississippi, Sarah Clark. They were married three years later at Elliott’s church in Memphis. She also has a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s from UT in experimental and comparative medicine. Today she is in her 10th year as a science teacher at the L&N STEM Academy.
After his UT graduation, Elliott began graduate school in animal microbiology. He didn’t finish but was part of a team awarded a patent for developing a new blood test for finding bacteria in humans and animals. UT owns the patent. After UT he worked for two years in the veterinary clinic at the Knoxville Zoo and then for a year at East Tennessee Clinical Research in Rockford, helping run studies for Pfizer and other drug companies. But he was restless for the things he loved, all the while with Wesley’s words resonating – “Do all the good you can…”
He linked the rush of firefighting with rock climbing, mountain biking and scuba diving. “I thought about the fire service, knew about it, the adrenalin rush, the thrill of it and the challenges and risks it presents,” he explained. “I like to push myself.” He applied and was hired and in 2007 graduated from KFD’s Fire Academy.
Elliott wanted more action, so to speak. In 2016 he began volunteering for the Knox County Rescue (KCR) and is on its water rescue and dive teams, rope team, cave rescue, confined spaces team and heavy rescue. His emergency certifications are most impressive – fire officer, extrication, swift water, rope rescue and rope access technician, confined space rescue, structural collapse and DART (Disaster Animal Response Team).
The dangers are many. Several close encounters with cars and trucks while working accidents on the interstates and places like Middlebrook Pike. He was inside a large multi-story home off Washington Pike battling flames and survived a ceiling coming down on top of him. “It crumpled me to the floor and I still have muscle spasms and disc issues in my neck and upper back,” he says.
“Fatalities, those stick with you and we all see our fair share of them,” the captain said. “We had a call in Fort Sanders for a man stuck in a ceiling vent trying to break into a deli. He got stuck and could not move for eight to 10 hours. He died right there. We could not get to him in time.”
The captain and wife Sarah have two kids – Claire is 14 and rides to school daily with her mom to the L&N Academy. Joey is 10 and he’s at Powell Elementary. They “divide and conquer” the cooking. “Everyone fixes a meal,” Elliott says. “We all do the planning.”
Their 11-acre spread in Powell has a lot of woods. Dad says they have egg-laying chickens and fresh eggs from their pet turkeys; plus, two dogs and a cat.
Elliott and his wife enjoy running, mountain biking and rock climbing. They’re both scuba divers and dive in several East Tennessee quarries and the Florida Keys. “In the quarries we stop at about 80 feet down, maybe a little more but not much more,” Elliot says.
One more question, Captain: “What’s the hardest part of the job for you?”
After a pause, he answered: “Just the time away from my family, missing them all, missing some birthdays and holidays and family events with them.”
Interesting firefighter … doing all the good he can do, every day.
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 or text him at 865-659-3562.