In the times in which we live, working for the same company for 31 years is something special. Big Brian Chesney was 24 when he was a student in Rural Metro’s Fire Academy. Today, he is one of the company’s six battalion chiefs and among its most veteran leaders.
And veterans in this business with his knowledge bank, experience and judgment are truly valued.
When his career began in September 1991, Rural Metro Fire had 12 stations and one firefighter per shift driving the one engine. Now, there are 18 stations with a firefighter and paramedic on each engine on each of the three shifts. Chesney is a Green Shift North chief and oversees 10 stations from his office at Station 36 on Emory Road – two Powell stations, Heiskell, Halls, Gibbs, Corryton, Mascot, Carter, John Sevier and Doyle.
Now 55, he thought back to those days 30 or so years ago and said the experiences and lessons he learned then were a “high point” of his career.
“When I was able to operate the fire truck and work a shift by myself – that was a big accomplishment for a guy in his 20s. I worked fires, ran medical calls to help people and responded to wrecks,” he remembers. “I gained a lot of maturity real quick for a guy so young.”
He’s a native of East Knox County, reared on a farm in Carter, a 1984 graduate of Carter High School who remains a resident of East Knox County to this day. In 1990 he graduated from Carson-Newman University with a degree in business management. Being a banker sounded good to him. But after being talked into trying the Fire Academy by his childhood buddy, Jeremy Rood, Chesney was hooked. Rood, by the way, is also a Rural Metro Battalion Chief today.
Chesney played basketball at Carter and was a two-year starter in 1987-88 for Carson-Newman. “Once I got started at the academy, I knew this was it, that this was going to be my career and I didn’t think I’d ever leave it and haven’t,” he said. “What we do is much like a team sport and I enjoy team sports.”
He says he was a chubby kid and to this day carries around the moniker “Chubbs.” Some call him “Big Cat.” He agrees 100% with what one long-time co-worker says of him: “He is always smiling when he is on duty and clearly he loves what he does! And he’s very good at what he does.”
It’s clearly a career he loves. “I like helping people. Simple as that. People need us on what could be the worst day of their life. Helping those who can’t help themselves … in emergencies, car wrecks, fires. I enjoy helping them in what I call after the fact conversations. I just don’t work the call and leave. I enjoy helping these people figure out what they need to do next, what to do and where to go. Many are in shock and need a positive person to be with them.”
He says he also enjoys teaching the younger guys how to be good firefighters. Chesney’s observations about today’s generation of firefighters are interesting.
“The younger generation has a different mentality about work than my generation. They’re just not … I mean … they’re not gung-ho I think, not real enthused like we were back then. At times I don’t think they realize what it takes to do this job and learning it all and taking orders. Too many keep their eyes focused on their phones. I’m always telling them to put down their phones. But I will say that these kids pick up on most things quicker.”
As for other changes he’s seen in 31 years on the job? He mentioned these: Fire gear has dramatically improved; much better facilities; the revolutionary development of thermal imaging cameras on every fire truck; having paramedics and EMTs on every engine; much improved breathing apparatus; and having three fire ambulances staffed by fire paramedics who double as firefighters.
He has three passions away from the stresses of the job: faith, family and fishing. He treasures family time with wife Casi and the four kids, ages 18 to 8. Sharing sports with the three younger boys is special. They worship at Thorn Grove Christian Church in Carter.
And fishing. He’s a wade-in-the-river or creek, catch and release fly fisherman. His favorite spots are the West Prong of the Pigeon River, the confluence of the North River and Tellico River, and camping overnight during the fishing trips. “I’ve even got my wife interesting in fly fishing now,” he said.
He loves it all, too – life, the work, the family, his faith, his Rural Metro brothers and sisters … and the fishing.
“Yep. I’m very happy and a lucky man,” he says.
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 865-659-3562.