James Asbury: ‘Best paramedic we have’

Tom KingHalls, Our Town Heroes

Tell me a little about James Asbury, was my request.

  • “The best paramedic we have,” said a veteran Rural Metro Fire captain.
  • “I can’t think of anyone who has his skillset,” was the next comment.
  • “He is constantly training new paramedics and EMTs for us (emergency medical technicians) as they come through Roane State Community College’s program.”

James Asbury

Asbury finished EMT school when he was 17 in tiny Kelseyville, California, (pop. 3,000). He moved to East Tennessee in 2008 and joined Rural Metro’s AMR Ambulance service in 2009. Five years ago, he survived Rural Metro’s Fire Academy and today is in his fifth year as a paramedic/firefighter at Station 30 in Halls. He also is certified in advanced cardiac life support and advanced pediatric life support.

When you talk with Asbury, it becomes clear that he is a person who loves to keep learning. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration/arson investigation from Columbia Southern University and an associate degree from Cleveland State Community College in criminal justice/law enforcement administration.

He also loves his work and living in Halls and East Tennessee with his family – wife Terra and their sons, Chance, 7, and Cameron, 4. His work on the ambulances is what led him to his wife. It’s a good story. In 2010 he dropped a person off at the Regional Forensics Center that was then in the basement of the UT Medical Center. She was an autopsy technician.

“Terra was the technician who met us at intake. I can make her roll her eyes with a smile to this day when we explain to others how we first met by describing her as the most lively one in the place,” Asbury says.

Today, Terra is a forensic scientist for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). In 2019, she missed several months of work with a medical issue. “It was a tough time for James, but he kept working faithfully. He never missed a beat,” said Capt. Jeff Bagwell of Rural Metro. “His work ethic is special and appreciated by everyone who works with him.”

Asbury enjoyed his seven years on the ambulances. “It’s busy and fast-paced. After some shifts you are exhausted. But I enjoyed it. It’s not for everybody,” he explained. “We see our share of really unpleasant stuff. It takes a special person to deal with the blood, guts and gore.”

His memories are vivid about a winter day in 2010. He and his partner were responding to an accident on Asheville Highway.

Asbury was driving, and it was a brand-new ambulance. They were on I-640 approaching I-40 when he hit a patch of black ice. The ambulance began spinning, crashed through a guardrail, rolled six or seven times and ended up on its side on I-40. The ambulance pros were now the patients. Asbury says he was not injured, but his partner suffered a broken neck and pelvis and had to retire. Both rode to the hospital as patients.

Seldom do first responders/emergency services professionals have the chance to meet the people they helped or possibly saved from death. Three years ago, he was working out of Station 26 and responded to a cardiac arrest at a Strawberry Plains home.

“The man was in his 50s and when we arrived, he had no pulse,” Asbury remembers. “His wife stayed cool and did continual CPR on him until we got there. We took over and worked on him for 20 minutes and got his pulse back and him breathing.” He was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center and survived the heart attack.

“What his wife did for him may have been a make-or-break factor for him,” Asbury said. “A few weeks later he contacted Rural Metro and wanted to meet us and thank us. He came to (Station) 26 and shook our hands and thanked us. He said he wanted to know who was pounding on his chest so hard that it hurt. We all laughed. I have to say it was a really cool experience.”

Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes – for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at tking535@gmail.com or call him at 865-659-3562.

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