Gary Godfrey: ‘Just a busy little Budda’

Tom KingOur Town Heroes

In these times in which we live, it’s rare for someone to be working the same job for the same company for 40 years with plans to work seven more. The company is Rural Metro Fire and the man is affectionately known to all as “Budda.”

His birth certificate reads “Gary Wesley Godfrey” – born May 5, 1964.

Gary Godfrey

He celebrates his 60th birthday in six days and is planning to enjoy his favorite food – a big Mexican dinner – with his girlfriend of 30 years, Kathy.

Budda is, of course, the longest-serving Rural Metro first responder in Knox County. He is a firefighter, an emergency medical technician (EMT) and has been and is a mentor to many. He has worked for 10 different chiefs and out of 10 stations, from Halls to deep west in Farragut. Budda also worked 12 years on Rural Metro ambulances while working as a firefighter.

And here’s the kicker … he has a second full-time job. For the past 25 years he has worked as an Emergency Room (ER) technician at Parkwest Medical Center. The man loves to work, to be busy, to make a difference.

“When I do walk away from this job and the career, I want to know that I have accomplished something and done something good with my life,” Budda said. “In a way it’s just a job we all do, but I’m also motivated by knowing that when someone is going through traumatic events, I’m there when you need me.”

And his sense of humor popped in. “I’m just a busy little Budda.”

He joined the Rural Metro Explorer Post in 1980 at what was Station 11 on Clinton Highway and after graduating from Halls High School in 1983, he was hired by Rural Metro in 1984 as a live-in firefighter at what is now Station 30 in Halls.

Did he attend Fire Academy? “Nope. Back then there was no fire academy. It was learning on the job as you went and being taught by the veterans,” he said. “We also had only one-man trucks or engines and only seven stations.” Now Rural Metro has 17 stations sprinkled throughout Knox County.

Today Budda pulls his 10, 24-hour shifts a month at Choto Station 42 in Farragut and he was there the day it opened in 2014.

As you can imagine, he’s seen and done a lot. “I’ve been burnt a couple of times but nothing serious. When I was younger, I was always the first one into the fire. I’ve gotten older and I’m more cautious today.”

When he began 90% of all calls were medically related.  It’s about the same now. He’s seen SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) kill babies. “Nothing we could do for those little babies,” he says. Fatal car accidents, people, young and old, trapped in cars. All manner of accidents and falls. Chest pains, heart attacks. “We’re seeing a lot more strokes now, too, and I believe it has something to do with Covid.”

He has witnessed three people die in fires. “Two of them were kids. It’s hard on you too. Real hard. You never forget that.”

To do the same job for 40 years translates into the obvious – you must love the work, the people you serve and help and the people you work with and for. “I love the fire side of the job and doing the medical calls as well. It’s been my calling since I was 10 or 11 years old,” Budda said.

Budda? A childhood nickname maybe? This is a great story … and it’s true to boot.

“I was working at Station 12 in Halls in 1985, either in January or February and it was really cold. It’d been snowing and we were running a call on Emory Road near Majors Road. I was riding the tailboard and could see down the road. Gary Leffew was driving and we topped a hill and there was a car backing up the hill. I could see what was about to happen – we either hit the car or hit the ditch. I just hung on. Gary slid it into the ditch and it didn’t even throw me off the tailboard.”

But the big engine was stuck. It took two hours, Budda said, for the big wrecker to arrive.

“We were all still dressed in our turn-out gear and we were trying to help the wrecker crew hook up the chains to drag us out. I was burning up and opened up my fire coat and shirt to cool off. Then I slipped down and as I was getting up I heard somebody laughing and yelling. My big old belly was a lot bigger then and it had flopped out over my pants and Jody Rood was on his hands and knees on the road laughing and bowing down and yelling ‘Budda, Almighty Budda; Budda, Almighty Budda’ and even I had to laugh. Right then on that afternoon I became known as Budda. Just like now.”

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. If you have someone you think we should consider featuring, please email him at the link with his name or text him at 865-659-3562.


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