When the name “Chief John Whited” comes up in conversation among emergency first responders, this is a sampling of what you hear:
“Best trainer I’ve ever seen or had. …”
“The man’s almost a legend. … I have no idea how he does what all he does. …”
“He’s a go-to man with a passion for emergency services like no one I’ve ever seen or known. …”
“Yep, I’m a man of many faces and yes, I wear three uniforms,” said the deputy chief of the Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad, who also is a full-time firefighter for Rural Metro at the new Choto Station 42. He wears a third hat as a volunteer medic for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
Dr. Russ Frazier, an anesthesiologist at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge, is the chief of the Volunteer Rescue Squad. After being on the board of directors for many years, he was asked to be the chief six years ago. “I agreed to do it, but with one condition – that John Whited would be my deputy chief,” he said. “I think John has more passion than I do for this work and we feed off of one another.”
In fact, Frazier and Whited were buddies at Farragut High School in the late 1980s. It was Frazier who introduced Whited to the Rescue Squad and got him interested.
“My first experience in serving the public was during a snowstorm in 1984. I was maybe 16 or 17. Meals on Wheels needed help delivering food to the elderly and shut-ins and I had an all-wheel vehicle so I volunteered and it made me realize what serving others really meant,” he said.
Frazier really didn’t have to convince Whited. “I joined the Rescue Squad when I was 19 and really got the bug for emergency services,” he says.
Today, these two high school buddies hold the top leadership positions for our Rescue Squad. “I have so much respect for John that we named our second son after John’s middle name – McDonald,” Frazier said. “Our son’s name is Maddox McDonald Frazier.”
It’s also an “All in the Family” business. Whited’s wife, Pam, is a former firefighter for the Knoxville Fire Department and is now a fire captain at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They met when both were volunteers fighting wildfires in Montana in 2000.
At 51, Whited’s average work week is around 115 hours. “I’m always on call, 24/7/365. I never get away from it. I truly love this work. I am very, very passionate about it,” he says. “This is important work that we do for our community.”
He’s also fit as a fiddle and seems to take it all in stride – the hours and the pressures and the stress.
When does he sleep? “Here and there, a few hours most of the time,” he said.
How does he wind down? “We have a camper and haven’t used it in years. My boat’s not even in the water. And we like to snow ski. Mingo, our Bengal cat, and Hannah the German Shepherd are my buddies.”
How many lives has he saved during his 31-year career?
“That thought has literally never crossed my mind – ever. It takes a team to do what we do. Everyone has a role to play and that’s what we do. In some ways this is a competitive profession. Everyone wants to succeed at their jobs and now that I’m doing so much training, I have to make sure that these men and women are trained properly to do their jobs. If they don’t, it’s on me. We work together on every call to save lives and help people.”
After joining the KVERS, he schooled himself in technical training in dive and swift water, cave and vertical rescues, structural collapse, rope rescue, heavy response, and vehicle entrapment rescues. He was once featured on the cover of “Rescue” magazine and today is recognized as a leading instructor for technical rescue services.
And, if the Whited name is familiar, his father, the late John Whited Jr., was the third winningest coach in Tennessee Vols baseball history. Whited served at the helm of the Volunteer program from 1982-87, amassing an overall record of 145-109 (.571) during his six years.
His son – John Whited III, played baseball at Farragut High and then at Motlow State until he tore up his left shoulder. The baseball career ended. And then his real career began in service to his community!
(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency service providers. Watch for this feature every Monday in KnoxTNToday.com and if you have suggestions about someone we need to feature, email Tom King at email@example.com)