“There’s always something you can get better at doing. You can never stop learning.”
Those are the words of Trey Gaff. Gaff is 25 and wants to be the best pumper operator/driver and firefighter/EMT for Rural Metro. He works out of Station 25 in Mascot, and in 2019 Gaff is the best, named Rural Metro’s Firefighter of the Year. Deputy Chief Rick Harrell made the announcement at the agency’s June 17 awards banquet.
“I was sitting there listening to the chief and hearing all the good things and great stuff he was saying about this firefighter and thinking to myself that this is a great firefighter, that I’d like to meet him, and then I heard my name,” Gaff says. “I was shocked and stunned. I still am. Me? Really?”
The top firefighter is selected from nominations submitted by Rural Metro captains, and battalion and deputy chiefs. After the nominations are in Rural Metro’s top chiefs select the best among the nominees.
Battalion Chief Brian Chesney, who oversees Station 25 and several other stations, nominated Gaff.
“Trey’s work ethic, his willingness to go above and beyond and his attitude about work are why I nominated him,” Chesney said. “The way he takes care of his patients on EMS calls is special and how he works with homeowners at their homes or on home inspections. He’s personable and professional. He’s a polite young man that you just enjoy being around.”
Gaff was not one of those little boys who dreamed of being a “fireman.” Fire trucks didn’t fascinate him. Motocross bikes did. He thought of becoming a professional motocross rider and raced locally on his Suzuki 125. Eventually, that dream disappeared, and after high school, he was not sure what he’d do for a living.
Gaff is a Corryton guy, a Gibbs High graduate who played football and was a two-way starter on offense and defense. College was not in the cards, and in 2014 he began working at AMR’s headquarters in Karns restocking supplies in the ambulances as they came in from different shifts. Behind the headquarters and the huge ambulance bay is the Rural Metro fire training facility.
“I used to walk out there and watch them training and paid attention. It hit me that I maybe wanted to do what they were doing,” he says.
One night soon after that he was hanging out with friends at a bonfire and met a guy with whom he struck up a conversation. Eventually, their work came up. Gaff mentioned that he worked at AMR. The other fellow was Rural Metro Fire Capt. Matthew Clift, who today runs the Rural Metro Fire Academy.
Rural Metro is part of the AMR Corp. Small-world stuff. Clift planted a seed, never knowing how it would grow.
Soon after their conversation Gaff applied with Rural Metro and was hired on Oct. 12, 2014.
“I have fallen in love with this job – the culture, the camaraderie, the history and the science of it. It’s my career and I’ll die or retire doing this – whichever comes first,” Gaff said.
Station 25 in Mascot, just off Old Rutledge Pike, is known as the “Night Stalker” station because the majority of their calls come at night. Fires, wrecks, drug overdoses, heart attacks, lift assistance calls in homes, diabetic attacks, suicides and attempted suicides.
“We never know what we’ll be dealing with when the call comes in so we have to be ready for whatever,” he says. “I have those calls that I’ll never forget and that’s part of it. The suicides are always sad for me.” He has seen three suicides by hanging and one by a gunshot to the head.
In addition to Chief Chesney, he worked under Battalion Chief Scott Roberts for four years and the same Capt. Clift he met at the bonfire.
Roberts says: “One of the unique things about Trey is that he’s always trying to obtain a better and higher level of understanding of the profession. Too many guys get out of the academy and do what they’re told to do and don’t have the independence or drive to find out more or learn more about how to do their jobs better, and Trey wants to always be learning.
“He is always trying to make himself and the department better. He is a unique young man among the millennials of today, who just want a paycheck and to go home. He takes his firefighter oath very seriously.”
Away from work, he visits the gym on his off days to work out and stay in shape. He and his wife, Kaitlin, have a son, Levi, who is 1, and Trey helps with childcare on those off days. They are very active in Northstar Church in West Knoxville, were Kaitlin sings in the choir. They are excited about an upcoming mission trip with the church on October 21 to India.
Kaitlin is an Army veteran – a medic in the U.S. Army for six years. She was working on an ambulance for AMR when they met.
“We met at the jail,” Gaff says. Her ambulance responded to a call at the Knox County Detention Center. He was a first responder and already at the jail when she arrived.
“I saw her and wondered who she was and thought she was absolutely gorgeous and that’d I’d like to know her,” he says. Their paths crossed again on a call and he made sure to talk with her and they swapped numbers. Their first date was at a softball game when a bunch of firefighters got to together to have some fun.” A year later they were married. Today she works at Foothills Title Co.
Before he was transferred to the Mascot station, he lived and worked out of Station 26 in Strawberry Plains for three years – with Capt. Clift.
“There is no one who is more genuine than Trey Gaff,” Clift said. “He is the most motivated person I have ever been around in my life. He is as honest and hard-working as they come. He wants to be the best in everything he does, at work and in life. He is passionate and motivated and is a real student of the game.”
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.