It’s quite a sight to see this Knoxville Fire Department Master Firefighter behind the wheel, high up in the cab of Engine 2, an aerial ladder truck. Engine 2 is also a pumper, carrying 500 gallons of water. It weighs approximately 60,000 pounds and is about 50-feet long. Its home is Headquarters Station 1 downtown. It’s a really big, red fire truck.
But one of its drivers these days is not whom you’d expect. She’s barely 5 feet, 3 inches tall. She wears a pink wedding band. Her name is Tiffany Eisenhower, a 21-year KFD veteran. She’s 42 and was reared in Vestal by her maternal grandparents, Tom and Frances Moore.
“I knew I wanted to be a firefighter when I was 16,” she says. “I’ve never been ‘girly girly.’ I played with GI Joes and Hot Wheels. I grew up playing with the neighborhood boys.” And at South-Doyle High, she played basketball and softball.
At Station 1, she’s just one of the guys. “It’s like these guys are my brothers. We all joke around with one another and have fun, but when the alarm goes off, it’s all business here,” she says.
She truly loves her work.
“I was hired by KFD on Aug. 22, 1999, and I was over the moon with excitement. Still am too. It’s like I never go to work because I want to be here. It’s an adrenalin thing. Driving Engine 2 is a lot of responsibility because I’ve got to get my people there safely so we can do our jobs.”
Before starting at Station 1, she spent the last 10 years in the KFD’s Public Fire Education Division, visiting and speaking at schools about fire safety, teaching fire extinguisher safety and holding down an 8-5 desk job.
“I am so thankful to KFD for the transfer opportunity to Public Education during a time of need for me when the kids were young and I needed to be there for them,” Tiffany says. “I didn’t get special treatment. Our department helps lots of us with issues like this and that’s part of what makes it so great to be here and be part of the KFD family.”
After finishing the KFD Training Academy in 1999 at 21, she worked for 10 years at Station 13 near her old Vestal stomping grounds and rose to master firefighter in 2004. She’s also an advanced EMT.
Her family was growing and today she has three children – Aliyah, 19, a student at Pellissippi State Community College studying to be a physician’s assistant; Weston, 15, a student at South-Doyle; and Holly, 6, who attends Bonny Kate Elementary. Husband John also helps with the kids these days. He’s a local driver for Holland USF.
In 2019 she was ready to be a master firefighter again. Wish granted. But first, she had to go through “Gap Training.” It was back to the academy for four months of retraining – catching up after 10 years away from firefighting, answering medical calls and being first responder to vehicle accidents.
Being away from the first responder work made the gap training mandatory. “I had to get my muscle memory back and many things changed in those 10 years,” she said. “I had to learn about the new high tech pumps that are electronic and not manual, the new equipment, and I had to go through driver training again.”
The aerial ladder on Engine 2 extends 70 feet, but like everything else on the truck, she knows how to use it. “Yep, I’ve been up that boom all the way, and I don’t much care for heights, but you do what you’re trained to do and think about it later,” she said.
Asst. Chief Robert Roche, who supervises Red Shift at Station 1, has been her supervisor for the past four months. “She has adjusted well on her return to the firefighting division. She is eager to take on new jobs and she works hard to improve her skills every day,” he said. “Tiffany gets along well with her coworkers. Being stationed at Headquarters can be a challenge with 13 people and 13 personalities here daily, but she has handled it well.”
The KFD has 327 firefighters. Only 15 are women. At Station 1 she serves alongside Firefighter Linny Blair and they have become friends.
“The folks at the station have worked with her to assure she’s ready wherever she is stationed and I’m confident she will do a good job,” Roche said, adding that the department has promotions coming up soon and there will be openings for master firefighters at other stations.
“I’d love to stay here at Station 1. They’ve welcomed me and helped me and I love it here, everyone here, and being downtown we’re always busy and that’s my adrenalin thing kicking in. But I’ll be happy anywhere,” she said.
(Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday.com and if you have a suggestion for a first responder/emergency services professional we should feature, email Tom King or call him at 865-659-3562.)