It was 18 degrees on the morning of Jan. 3, 2018, around 8:20. Chris McReynolds was driving down Kingston Pike near Walker Springs Road on his way into town for a doctor’s appointment. He glanced to his left and saw black smoke across the interstate. He made a quick left.
“As I got closer and closer, I saw more smoke and then I saw the flames coming through the roof of the building,” he said. “I called 911 as I drove into the parking lot of the apartments, got out and started banging on doors on all three floors of the building. I got around 20 people out of the building.” This happened at the Bell Walker Crossing Apartments. He remembers the building number he called in – 8331.
In fire lingo, the building “was fully involved.” Minutes later, trucks from two stations arrived and found one hydrant frozen. “It was a good stop and they knocked it down pretty quickly,” he says. “I left and went to my doctor’s appointment and stopped by on the way home and they were mopping it up.”
Just another day as a firefighter, even an off-duty one. No biggie.
What the residents didn’t know was that this man who very possibly saved their lives was in reality Knoxville Fire Department Capt. Chris McReynolds, 49, who was off duty, his left arm in a cast from recent surgery. “I was wearing only a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops and it was definitely cold,” he says. “With my arm in the cast I had trouble getting my clothes on and this was all I could manage.”
Around the Knoxville Fire Department, he’s affectionately known as “Big Mac.” He’s a 22-year veteran of the department, a man who’s hard to miss – 6-1, 265 pounds of muscle with a shaved head. He and his crew work out of Station 18 on Weisgarber Road.
Two weeks ago, Mayor Madeline Rogero and KFD Chief Stan Sharp honored McReynolds for his heroism. He was selected as the “Firefighter of the Quarter” and Rogero referred to him “as a star that shines in our department.” She presented him with a formal proclamation from the city. Sharp then presented him with a coveted “Department Commendation” medal.
The ceremony was held at the Fire Training Center and the firefighters there gave him a standing ovation.
“Big Mac” was reared in Rocky Hill and graduated from Bearden High School. Then it was off to the U.S. Army and the 3rd Infantry Division. He served in Germany and then was deployed to Saudi Arabia and served in “Desert Storm.” When he returned, he joined the 278th Armored Cavalry National Guard unit in Lenoir City.
Had he ever done anything similar in the past as he did on that cold January morning? “This kind of stuff happens all the time … wrecks where you pull people out … other fires in homes,” he said. “It’s what we all do, what we are trained to do. We’re obligated to help, even when we’re off duty and see something like this. I never hesitated. I just got to those apartments as quickly as I could. When you’re off duty the gear comes off but the passion for the job does not.”
McReynolds is not a big talker. His only comment during the ceremony was “thank you” to the mayor and the chief along with a quick smile.
“These awards are great for morale,” McReynolds said. “But for me, it meant so much because my kid, Katelyn, was sitting out there. She knows what I do now. For me it meant a lot because it made my kid proud of me. She’s 21 and a great daughter. She now knows that I do some important stuff at work.”
Important “stuff” like saving lives.
(Editor’s Note: This is the second 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 firstname.lastname@example.org)