Garrett Dobbs: 2022’s firefighter of the year

Tom KingGrainger, Our Town Heroes

He’s a mighty, mighty shy young man, not one for idle talk. He is a devout practitioner of the adage “actions speak louder than words.” At work you hear words like these said about him – respectful, humble, a really solid guy, always positive. And then there’s this: “He lives the job every hour of every day.”

That’s my way of introducing Garrett Brooks Dobbs, young in years at 22 but off and running as a big part of Rural Metro Fire in Knox County. On Friday evening, December 9, at the Crowne Plaza, Asst. Chief for Administration Rick Herrell announced and introduced Rural Metro’s Firefighter of the Year for 2022 – Garrett Dobbs. Presenting the award was Asst. Chief of Operations Jeff Devlin as Chief Jerry Harnish looked on.

Garrett Dobbs

Shocked, was he? “I had no idea. Yes, I was shocked. I didn’t say anything when I got the award. I just went up there and got my award and shook everyone’s hand and said thank you to the chiefs,” he said. “I was very shocked. It’s humbling and I’m grateful and I didn’t deserve this. There are plenty of guys who have helped train me and done so much for me. It’s a reflection of them and how good they are.”

He was nominated by Capt. Matthew Clift, a Rural Metro veteran and the professional Dobbs calls “my mentor.” His nomination received a unanimous vote by Rural Metro’s chief officers.

Dobbs, who also answers to his nickname of “Josh” in honor of ex-University of Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs, moved to Grainger County with his family from Georgia when he just 7. His father was in law enforcement in Georgia before joining the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) here and is a bomb expert.

Dobbs graduated from Grainger County High School in 2018, spent a semester at Pellissippi State Community College and then began learning the fire business in Rural Metro’s Fire Academy in May 2019. He became a “live-in” firefighter at Station 27 on Strawberry Plains Pike in the summer of 2020 and became fulltime in October 2020 at Station 27, where he’s lived ever since.

But today his work shifts revolve around running the Rescue Truck out of the Knox County Rescue headquarters, a job Rural Metro is taking over from KCR in 2023. His live-in status at Station 27 means he’s always there on his “off” days and when the alarm sounds, he’s on the engines and helping the crews however he can. “It is exciting to me for whatever the reason and I’m still learning and the experiences are great,” he says.

For someone so young in the profession, his credentials are impressive – Firefighter I & II, an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT), certifications in Vehicle Rescue, Swiftwater Rescue I & II, Trench Rescue, Rope Technician, Basic Dive and Advanced Open Water Diver and a Public Safety Diver. He also wants to become a paramedic.

He knows the dangers of the job – downed power lines, working at a wreck on an Interstate or most anywhere, dangerous fires, walls collapsing, smoke inhalation, falls, firefighter fatigue, heat stress, electric shocks and burns, exposure to hazardous materials, and infectious disease exposures, among others.

He spends time soaking up knowledge and training. “I continue to work to fill up my brain with the knowledge of the guys here who train me and push me to be the best I can be,” Dobbs said. “Then I can help train the younger guys who come in. I worry about the things I don’t know. I want to be prepared for anything and I try to train all of the time.”

Dobbs has won awards and both involve the same incident. He was part of the rescue team that saved the life of Madison Harber on April 15, 2021, when her car was struck on Tazewell Pike. She nearly lost her leg and her life. Dobbs was the firefighter who cut the door off the car so the medical team could begin working on her. In October 2021, Madison presented the Phoenix Award to Dobbs and seven other first responders who saved her life. Dobbs and the Rural Metro team also went to Nashville and were honored with Star of Life Awards for their heroic work. Here is our story about Madison’s accident.

His days living at Station 27, however, are numbered. On Oct. 27, 2023, he and his fiancé, Danielle Brewer, will be married. Two bits of coincidence are involved here. He met Danielle on his first day at Pellissippi State in 2019 and she lives with her parents — literally five minutes from Station 27 off of Strawberry Plains Pike. She is a radiology technician at UT Medical Center.

Clift, who also calls Station 27 home like Dobbs and nominated him for this honor, says this is a very special young professional who is focused on training and learning.

“Garrett is kind, very humble and generous and embodies the way Rural Metro Fire should be represented,” he said. “Additionally, Dobbs often gets a ‘field promotion’ to ECL (engine crew leader) on fire scenes due to his natural talents for fighting fire. Garrett Dobbs represents the best of us.”

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked for newspapers in Tennessee and Georgia.

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