At the age of 35, Marcos Sport Garcia made a decision to change his life. His was not a bad life – just not the life he thought he would be living. In 2015, he moved 2,240 miles from Northern California to Knoxville. In November 2018 he joined AMR/Rural Metro as a fire paramedic – at the age of 39. And 16 days ago, on May 4, he was married for the first time.
Today, he and the 20 others in his class are in their fourth week of the eight-week course at the Rural Metro Fire Training Academy, learning to become full-fledged firefighters. It’s hard slugging for anyone, wearing gear that can add 50 to 60 pounds to their body weight. “I know that firefighting is a young man’s game, but I think I’m keeping up pretty good,” he says.
Garcia adds, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and I love it. The physical demands that are required are not something I have dealt with in a long time. I’ve lost 12 pounds this month, and I’m running and working out.”
His next words speak volumes about this life change: “I’m so glad I didn’t wait too long to do this so I can live my dream. You can change your life. I’m proof of that.”
Capt. Matthew Clift is the director of Rural Metro’s fire academy and is leading the training. He says Garcia will make it through just fine. “His heart goes a long way, and also his life experience is going to make him better in the long run as a firefighter,” he says. “His heart is second to none.”
Clift first met Garcia at Gibbs Station 34 when Clift was assigned there in January 2019. “He was actually on my shift, so I’ve gotten to know Marcos. When we went on fire calls and at the station he was trying to learn all he could about firefighting then. He immediately became one of the guys at the station, and he’s very respected by the team as a great paramedic. His skills make him a very valuable member of our team.”
Garcia was reared in Manteca, Calif., in the state’s Central Valley, some 80 miles east of San Francisco. After high school graduation, he decided to join the U.S. Navy. He wanted to train for Naval intelligence work, and he says the Navy said OK when he signed the papers. It didn’t work out that way. He served for four years and left the service as a radar operator on the USS Boxer (LHD-4), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship. He had one deployment to the Persian Gulf but labels his Navy work as “boring.”
Clear of the Navy and wanting to settle into a steady job and life, he began working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the federal research facility in Livermore, Calif. He was there for 13 years doing administrative work, work he can’t discuss. “At first it was exciting, but it became mundane, and I felt mediocre doing that work. I had just turned 35, and I began taking stock of my life. I asked, what am I doing with my life? I should have been a firefighter already or a Navy corpsman. I needed a change. I knew what I wanted to do – what I’m training for now.”
And then one of those unusual coincidences came along.
It involved his older brother, and it relates to the incident when a nun and two other anti-nuclear activists broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge on July 28, 2012. His brother was a security guard at Lawrence Livermore then. In the aftermath of the security breach at Y-12, then-Oak Ridge security firm Wackenhut lost its contract and Garcia’s brother was part of the team that came in from Livermore to provide security. His brother fell in love with East Tennessee and stayed.
“We talked. I needed a change, and he convinced me to come,” Garcia says.
Once here, he enrolled at Roane State Community College to earn his EMT Advance and Paramedic certifications, which took 18 months. During all of that, he was working jobs with Anderson County EMS and with Lifeguard as an EMT. Once the certifications were in hand, he needed full-time work.
So he applied with Rural Metro and was hired. He began working at the Gibbs station as a fire paramedic in November 2018. Why Rural Metro? “I asked around and what I found out is true: It’s a tight-knit organization and team, a lot like a family, and I wanted to be part of that. We all hang out together, have dinner on the weekends sometimes. This atmosphere really matters to me. The family part is a big thing for me.”
Garcia married wife Jade on Saturday, May 4, at Broadway United Methodist Church in Maryville, her home church. She works in human resources at Dollywood. They live in Rockford.
To emphasize the family atmosphere, he says that his captain, Clift, and EMT buddy Kevin Cate both came to his wedding. “That meant a lot to me – a lot,” he adds. “More than you know.”
As a paramedic, Garcia can administer drugs for a variety of conditions and injuries, intubate patients, perform a cricothyrotomy (an incision made through the skin and cricothyroid membrane to establish an airway during certain life-threatening situations), administer EKGs and defibrillators and handle pain management.
He has already worked two calls that are seared in his memory. His unit answered a call in Gibbs for a woman in labor. They found her in the front seat of her car in her driveway. He helped deliver the baby, cut the umbilical cord and used his thumbs for some gentle CPR in the ambulance. Mom and baby did fine. “I did make a phone call to make sure they were OK, and they were.”
The next emergency is one he calls a “nightmare call.” An 18-month-old was run over by his parents. “The baby had really bad facial trauma, and we did all we could. We did a lot. I was holding him in my arms in the ambulance when he died, and I will never forget that look of pain and guilt on the faces of the parents,” he says. “It was just so sad.”
As for the saving-lives part of the job and perhaps being called a hero, he offers this: “I’ve learned that none of us want to be called a hero. We’re doing our jobs, our individual parts of it all, and we live for this part of the job. It’s what we’re supposed to be doing. You live to work at what we’re all doing.”
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, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at (865) 659-3562.