Station 32 has the feel of an outpost. Being there conjured up images of Fort Sedgwick and Union Army Lt. John Dunbar in the 1990 Best Picture movie Dances with Wolves. A one-man military fort in the middle of the American frontier and the Lakota Indians manned by one man.
Back to reality.
Station 32 is one of 18 Rural Metro firehalls in Knox County. It is the only “Code 10” station – meaning it is manned by only one firefighter. Meet Bryan Hipskey, a 22-year veteran of Rural Metro Fire, an EMT who works 10-hour days Monday through Friday at the station that sits at the intersection of Heiskell Road and Raccoon Valley Road in Powell, just west of I-75. It was a church’s fellowship hall until 2011 when Rural Metro moved in.
Across Heiskell Road sits Hipskey’s only neighbors at the U.S. Post Office and the Heiskell Market.
Hipskey, known around Rural Metro as “Hippy” (thanks to now Battalion Chief Billy Kear), loves the community in which he works and lives. There aren’t many people in Heiskell he doesn’t know. He answers their medical calls at their homes – heart attacks, falls, general sickness issues, someone passes out. He checks homes and businesses for fire and smoke alarms and of course responds to fires, usually with his Station 36 buddies on Emory Road.
“And we have a lot of car wrecks out here. Too many,” he says. His coverage area includes the county roads, Norris Freeway, Raccoon Valley, parts of Emory Road and segments of I-75.
He basically goes where his 4-tons-of-water engine is needed.
Hippy is 53, Detroit born but reared in Melbourne, Florida. He spent three years with Brevard County Fire Rescue before coming to East Tennessee to join brother Gary here. He also was a firefighter, EMS and Rural Metro paramedic on ambulances before leaving for the boat business in Loudon County.
Prior to joining Rural Metro as a Reserve Firefighter in 2001, Hipskey worked in the car body repair and paint business, still a passion of his along with his five dogs, hotrods and son Brandon, who with a buddy owns a body shop in Clinton. That apple fell very close to the tree.
When he’s not working it’s a good bet you can find him in his garage at home, maybe working on his prized Camaro Z28, 350- horsepower hotrod. “It’s fun to drive and a real blast from the past,” he says. “My Dad had hotrods and his son is the same way.”
He’s pretty well known for his body and paint work on cars and right now he’s repairing an expensive Ferrari E430 that was recently rear-ended. “I do special jobs like this one these days but I’m very careful and particular about what I take on and not get too busy,” he says. He is also working on a “show car” and one day he was under the car, and while trying to exit he bumped into the frame. The battery was not bolted in place and landed on his face and he landed in the emergency room. Bruises and a slight concussion.
Before Rural Metro opened its new Station 32 on Emory Road in 2019 the Heiskell station was a very busy place. Not so today. Hipskey says he averages two calls a day. “But I still have days when I get really busy with calls. Every day’s different around here. I never know.”
If you wonder about his off-duty hobbies, think cars. “I go to a lot of car shows for hotrods. I love the spring rod shows in Pigeon Forge and the one at Brushy Mountain State Prison on the prison grounds. That’s pretty cool. And I really enjoy camping with Brandon and his wife.”
His dogs are a big part of his off-duty world too. His three German Shepherds are Max, 10; Hela, 4; and Evo, 3. His house dogs are both Beagles – Buddy, 17, and Missy, 4. “They’re all rescue dogs and I’m glad they have a happy home with me,” he added. “I love ’em all.”
This is his fifth year of working solo at Station 32. Does he like it? “I do like it. I’m getting older and being by myself out here is OK. But I’m always busy it seems with calls and training and doing what I have to do here daily.”
He says it would be nice to have a partner, especially when he’s lugging heavy equipment up and down hills and the steps into homes. “If we had more subscribers in Heiskell we could add another firefighter,” says Rural Metro Public Information Officer Capt. Jeff Bagwell. “I think people there think we’re still the old Heiskell Volunteer department.”
“And it’s a lot of mental and physical stress on Hippy,” Bagwell added. “He runs more calls by himself than our Choto and Corryton stations run. You always need someone watching your back and being ready to help.”
Hipskey says he’d welcome a partner at Station 32. “It would be nice to have two of us. Maybe then we could cover all seven days for this community,” he said. “But I’ll be here. I love it here.”
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia.