There’s a case to be made that Capt. Robby Nix is the busiest professional Rural Metro Fire has on its payroll. And when you study his workload and responsibilities, it’s hard to think otherwise. Then you scratch your head and wonder how he gets it all done, working between 60 and 75 hours a week, seven days in most weeks.
Nix is 53 and in his 35th year with Rural Metro. His career began in 1982 when he joined Rural Metro Explorer Post 453 at Farragut High School – in the same post with Knox County Rescue (KCR) Chief Dr. Russ Frazier and longtime former KCR Deputy Chief John Whited, now working fulltime for Rural Metro.
So, just what all does Nix do? Here is his load:
- Manages all Emergency Medical Services (EMS) operations.
- Directs, coordinates and instructs all medical training – for new Fire Academy recruits and ongoing training, including scheduling of classes and instructors. As part of this he is an instructor as well.
- Manages the department’s Covid-19 program to include testing, vaccinations, reporting and keeping employees updated.
- Responsible for Rural Metro’s three ambulances and other vehicles to always be properly equipped with med supplies.
- Manages state requirements for Rural Metro ambulance operations.
- Manages Quality Assurance and Improvement
- Manages EMS credentials for all staff.
- Manages vaccinations for all staff
- Manages the Fire Division’s preceptor program with Roane State Community College and teaches at Roane State.
- Responds to emergency and non-emergency fire and medical service calls for Knox County and communities with mutual-aid agreements. He’s a critical care paramedic and a firefighter.
His résumé has a section headlined “Education, Specialized Training & Certifications, and Proficiencies.” That list requires two pages to cover it all.
His boss is Asst. Chief of Operations Jeffrey Devlin. He minces no words about Nix: “… Robby is one of the most dedicated and hard-working caregivers I have ever met in this business. He cares deeply about the mission to deliver the best care to our patients, and his commitment to train our people that way is demonstrated everyday by all the folks he has trained. They do an excellent job, and for many of them it started in Capt. Nix’s EMT class.”
He’s all business in his classes. The most important thing he tells Fire Academy recruits is this: “You can’t fail life-saving day.” He adds: “On the job you never know what day you’ll be working to save a life. I challenge the students because lives depend on them and them knowing what to do under pressure. If I can train them how to do it correctly, that’s when the community really wins and that’s the most important thing I do.”
Fire Academy recruits must undergo 800 hours of training before they can work on a fire truck. Nix and his faculty are responsible for the first 400 hours in the classroom.
“These men and women are in class eight hours a day and study on average two to four hours a night,” Nix explained. “On the weekends they study eight to 10 hours and then start their clinicals, working eight 12-hour shifts on fire trucks and ambulances. It’s a big-time commitment and most of them aren’t used to that. We have a huge investment and commitment to every recruit and this is serious business – life and death serious.”
For the first 25 years of his career, he was a paramedic/firefighter who worked all over Knox County – at Station 10 in Powell, the two eastside stations in Mascot and Strawberry Plains and would fill in at other stations.
Nix, who was reared in Powell, moved with his family to West Knox County when he was 10. It was a fortuitous move, because when he was 14 it was a next-door neighbor who talked him into checking out the Explorer post. “I loved it right off the bat. When I was 16, I helped with CPR on a cardiac arrest victim and we saved him. I was part of saving a life and man, that hooked me.”
This man eats, lives and sleeps Rural Metro and his career. “We have the best jobs here. It’s a brotherhood and we have a family type atmosphere that’s wonderful. I know we make a difference here serving our citizens of Knox County.”
When Covid hit in early 2020, managing that became a big part of Nix’s workdays. At one point, Rural Metro was testing seven days a week. Nix had to assess the needs and order the required PPE (personal protection equipment) for all 18 stations and their 220 employees.
“We had to keep our staff healthy so they could do their jobs and we also became a CDC vaccination site working with the Knox County Health Department,” he says.
In addition to his Rural Metro job, he works at the University of Tennessee as a paramedic. On Saturday, he was working at a Medical First-Aid Station at the UT-Auburn game. Yesterday, he covered the UT baseball game. He works at all football games, most women’s basketball games and concerts.
It helps that he’s single. And he does take a vacation now and then and his passion leads him to travel all over our country to some favorite fishing holes. “I’ve caught fish from the bank, bridges, in my boat, from kayaks and even off of a paddleboard,” he says. “I used to fish competitively but no more.” He’s also a back-country hiker who loves the trails at Big South Fork and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Many firefighters have a reputation as being very good cooks. “Well, I’m not a great cook but I’m not a bad cook either. But I know I have made a lot of fire bellies happy through the years,” he said.
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at [email protected] or call him at 865-659-3562.