He has his collection of Knox County Rescue (KCR) uniforms and an array of hats, coats, shirts and boots. There’s a formal uniform and working clothes – and yes, at 52, he still responds to emergency calls.
He also has his gear as a full-fledged member of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team. He is the team’s tactical physician, a job he’s held for 20 years. When they are called out, he goes with them unless he’s in the middle of surgery. A bullet-proof vest, the gun, the helmet, and the safety equipment, plus a backpack he wears filled with medical this and that is always in his SUV. He trains two days a month with the SWAT team. Not long ago the KCSO honored him with its “Medal of Valor” for outstanding performance in emergency situations.
Yes, he’s a doctor and that’s another uniform he wears as president of Oak Ridge Hospital’s Methodist Medical Center Anesthesia Group. He is an anesthesiologist.
We’re talking about Dr. Russ Frazier, a man who has given 36 years of his life to KCR and his community, a native Knoxvillian and a Farragut High School graduate. After high school he was off to the University of Tennessee, earning a degree in psychology, and next he earned his medical degree from the University of Tennessee Medical School in Memphis. He then completed one year in a trauma surgery residency and four years in anesthesia at UT Medical Center. His med school years marked the only time he has been away from the KCR. Since 2012 he has been the KCR’s chief.
As if he’s not wearing enough hats and uniforms, he’s also a member of the GSMSG, the Global Surgical and Medical Support Group, which provides medical relief to communities in conflict zones around the world. GSMSG is currently active in Iraq, where millions of men, women and children have taken refuge since fleeing their native homes following the invasion of ISIS. For the last three years, GSMSG has been the only full-spectrum provider of medical care and training, ranging from combat medicine to cardiothoracic surgery. Later this year, he’s returning to northern Iraq for a two-week tour.
Someone has said that many people eventually find a purpose for their life and others do not, but a lucky few find multiple purposes. That describes Russ Frazier.
He was 16 and a junior at Farragut when he volunteered at KCR. He religiously watched the old TV show “Emergency.” He soaked it in. When he was working on his degree at UT in Knoxville he pulled weekend shifts at what was then known as the Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad. Most still call it the rescue squad today.
What led him to the KCR, to learn all that he had to learn to help at car wrecks, drownings or water rescue, or at someone’s home with a medical emergency? “I don’t have an answer for that,” he said while sitting behind his desk at KCR headquarters in East Knoxville. “All I can say is that it was and is still a calling for me. When I was at UT this is the office where I studied biology and chemistry. I literally grew up in the building. This was my home then.”
He vividly remembers the first rescue squad call he ran, to help with a water rescue at I.C. King Park. It was a drowning. But there’s more to this answer, too.
“I was walking in a huge crowd just outside Neyland Stadium one Saturday going to a UT game and I was either 6 or 7,” he said. “I was with my father and grandfather and a man fell just in front of us and busted his head. He was on his hands and knees and even at that age I felt helpless for him. We just kept walking.” Even at that age, he felt an urge to help.
Many remember his father – Dr. Robert W. Frazier – who was the first principal at Farragut Intermediate School. He held that job for 33 years until he suddenly passed away in 2006 at the age of 62. In addition to being Frazier’s father, he was his principal as well in the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades.
Fast forward to June 1984 when he “just showed up” at the rescue squad Station 1. “I didn’t know anyone,” he says. “I started my training and the rest is history.”
Then, at 18, he applied for a job at Parkwest Medical Center in surgery. He was a “transporter” who pushed patients from their rooms to surgery and then to recovery. “I helped set up the operating rooms, cleaned them and was pretty much an orderly,” he says. “I hit the lottery. I worked nights and weekends, went to school during the day. I was able to watch surgeries and learn. It was an amazing part of my life. And I was still working at KCR then, too.’
After 28 years as a squad member, the KCR board of directors named him chief in 2012. He accepted on one condition – that his high school buddy John Whited be his deputy chief. So moved and approved. Today, Frazier and Whited still lead the squad of some 110 members who work out of three stations.
“Some guys like to fish and hunt and play golf,” he added. “This is what I do. How could anyone not love this organization? We are here to help people, and I am blessed to be surrounded by and working with these people here.”
KCR responds to all vehicle accidents in Knox County and serves as the team that if needed cuts victims from their vehicles and administers medical help. KCR is the water rescue agency for Knox County. It also rescues people from caves and from structures that have collapsed. They also are available to assist Rural Metro and other fire departments if needed.
“Knox County is a rare entity where fire and rescue are separated into fire departments and us,” he said.
As its chief, Frazier has goals for KCR. “The biggest one is to continue growth that matches the growth of Knox County. A lot of the growth is west, and we’re going to need a large station headquartered out west. Today we have three rescue trucks on 365/24/7, and we’re going to need a fourth along with the personnel to staff it.”
He’s also working to increase the number of young people to volunteer. The KCR Cadet program is open to teens 14 to 18, male or female. People who are 18 and up can apply online at the KCR for volunteer positions HERE.
Each Sunday KCR Capt. Will Steward and Julie Greene, KCR’s community outreach coordinator, conduct training classes for the cadets (18 and under). They have 12 cadets in training now.
Frazier and wife Kim and their two teen sons, Jackson and Maddox, have lived in Hardin Valley for 21 years. Kim is a community activist, saying she got interested as school overcrowding, traffic congestion, development issues and growth began causing problems. She is the co-founder of Hardin Valley Planning Advocates. Kim calls this a full-time job. Her other passion is jewelry design. She owns Ahyoka Jewelry Design and handles it from home on a Facebook page.
When one walks into Frazier’s office there is no way to miss the sign hanging on the wall behind his chair. He didn’t say it, but it must reflect his approach to everything he does in life: “A person is not measured by how tall they stand; rather by how far they kneel to help, comfort and teach.”
Editor’s Note: Our Town Heroes highlights Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, email Tom King or call him at 865-659-3562.