Chaplain. Captain. Minister. Servant. Educator. Social worker. Confidant. Husband. Father. Grandfather. Railroad engineer.
Allow me to introduce Capt. Paul N. Trumpore Sr., the chaplain and Public Fire Education officer for the Knoxville Fire Department (KFD). For 23 years he has been the minister at Sullivan Road Christian Church in Knoxville and since 2002 has served as executive director of the Tennessee Federation of Fire Chaplains. In 2017 the federation honored him as the “Chaplain of the Year.”
When KFD fire trucks roll on a call for a house or any kind of dwelling fire, the Rev. Capt. Trumpore rolls, too – 24/7/365 – no matter the hour. “If it’s a call for a house or apartments, I’m going to be there, at least 90 percent of the time,” he says. “Maybe more than 90 percent.”
He’s there to help the families affected by the fire, as well as any firefighters who need him. “When families are in a crisis and their home or apartment is burning, it’s always their worst day, and my job is not to make everything better for them but to offer stability and to keep things from becoming worse,” he says. “I ask them if a prayer would be helpful, then we’ll pray. Some will, others won’t. And that’s OK.”
Trumpore, 53, is at fire scenes for more than just spiritual support. If it’s cold or raining, he gets blankets and rain gear for the families. He is the man who works with the American Red Cross to make sure the family has a roof over their heads and a place to sleep, to get them clothes and even assist them with their medications if they are lost in a fire. He sings and preaches praise for the Red Cross. “What they do is remarkable. Not sure what we’d do without them.”
Yes, he used to be a proud hose-dragging KFD firefighter but says he has “not turned out” in gear since 2003. He was a firefighter, EMT and chaplain for Rural Metro for a short time and did training and was a volunteer firefighter and chaplain at the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department as well. He became a member of the KFD almost 21 years ago.
Trumpore was an assistant chaplain under now-retired Chaplain Carl Ford and took over as chaplain in 2003.
“I’m not that important, really,” he says. “I’m a servant. I’m a captain and I don’t ever want a promotion. I’m in the position where I belong and am supposed to be. I’m part of the team.”
He has married firefighters who have asked him to perform their weddings. He has officiated at funerals and makes hospital visits for firefighters and their families. In one month alone he officiated the funerals of six KFD retirees. He says: “It wears on you. It’s people you know. We’re a brotherhood. It gets heavy.”
How does a chaplain cope? Where does he turn for help? “Other chaplains around the state. We all talk. We call it ‘group ice cream therapy.’ We meet and they all help. I’ve helped other chaplains, and they’ve helped me.”
Trumpore escapes the stress by becoming a train tycoon and engineer in his basement with his model train set … or sets. He has 60 engines and a couple hundred train cars and can run 16 trains at one time on 1,200 feet of track. It took him three years to build the layout. It’s a child’s delight …. or a man’s delight. He’s living proof of the adage: “The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.” It offers him plenty of chances to spend time with his three boys. They’re all down there about twice a week, and he says the boys have progressed to the point where they can now run the trains without him being there.
His other KFD job is a big one – being the Public Fire Education officer, going into every elementary school in the city of Knoxville for fire classes. Last year he conducted classes for more than 18,000 students. The smaller schools require two days and the larger ones four days at the school.
During December 2016 he had no schools booked for classes – a first to this day. “Maybe it was providence. I dunno. Because I spent the end of November and most of December in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge,” he says, “working on the massive fires there” (which began Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, 2016).
He worked with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and KEMA (Knoxville Emergency Management Agency), helping with communications, crisis intervention and supporting the families and the firefighters. He stayed there for almost two weeks and then spent most December days afterward there. He remembers well that 14 people died in the fires. “A lot of people were hurting, lost their homes, businesses and more,” he says. “It was tragic. But I needed to be there.”
He and wife Ann, married for 33 years, live in South Knoxville, where they have raised “two families.” They have three daughters, ages 31, 30 and 28. Fourteen years later they planned a second family and wanted two more children. A son, who is 14 today, came along, and that fifth child, well, they were blessed with twin boys, now 12. Six kids. Today, PopPop and Granna have five grandkids and during all of this they have had 14 foster kids in their home. And now Paul’s 81-year-old mother lives with them.
Speaking of children, the hardest part of his job and all firefighters’ is losing kids in fires or accidents. “In addition to the families, I have to help the firefighters when a kid dies. Many of them have families and kids. They are severely hurting, and it really gets to them,” Trumpore says. “It gets to all of us.”
This is a series of recognition of emergency service providers in Knoxville, Tenn. It’s published each Monday at www.knoxtntoday.com