Jeff Bagwell: He knows the business

Tom KingHalls, Our Town Heroes

He’ll answer to “Bags.”


He is Jeffrey Douglas Bagwell – or Capt. Jeff Bagwell. For the last five years Bags has been the Public Information Officer (PIO) and public face of the Rural Metro Fire Department. He’s a 24/7/365 days a year kind of guy.

He’s on TV and radio, websites and newspapers, and helps market Rural Metro. He is the company’s link to the public, handling Rural Metro’s social media (10,000 Facebook followers) and 6,000 more on Twitter. His is a voice to be trusted.

When crews from Rural Metro’s 18 stations respond to a fire or a serious accident, Bagwell is there. “I’m usually out all night three or four nights of the week and when house fire season gets here (November through February) it can be five or six nights a week,” Bagwell says. “There’s always a story to tell and my job is to tell the story. I know what I can say and not say.”

Translated, that means he’s been there and done that. His judgment and information are respected by the media and the public.

Bagwell, 54, began his career in the community where he was reared – Claxton. After graduating from Clinton High School, he spent two years at the University of Tennessee. In 1987 he went to EMT school and became a paramedic in 1989, working as a volunteer at the Claxton Fire Department and as an EMS at Anderson County Emergency Medical Services. In 1990 he became chief of the Claxton department and held that position for 10 years. And during that time, he also worked as a firefighter at the Y-12 Fire Department from 1990-1997. And from 2006 to 2014 he was the chief of the Andersonville Volunteer Fire Department. Busy man!

There’s more. While at Y-12 in 1995 he joined Rural Metro part-time and spent five years in what today is AMR Ambulances.

He then became a full-time firefighter and remained in that role until the PIO job came his way in 2015.

“I’ve had way too many jobs,” he said. “But I’ve loved doing it all. Still do. Not sure I’ll ever quit.”

Now in his 25th year with Rural Metro, he has a nice office at Rural Metro’s Station 41 on Campbell Station Road. He uses it maybe once a week. His working office is his vehicle with its computer and his two cell phones.

Bags has memories galore.

In the late 1980s he was on an ambulance that responded to a call in the New River community. They found a woman who was dead from what they later learned was a heart attack. “This lady had been dead for a few hours, was blue and there was nothing we could do,” he recalled. “We were leaving her bedroom to get the stretcher and take her out and all of a sudden we heard a shotgun cock. Her son threatened us and said to do CPR and whatever we had to do to save her. He was serious but grief stricken.”

After working on her, they eventually got her in the ambulance and the son joined them – 12-gauge shotgun in hand – in the back with his mother and Bagwell. “I could tell he really was not going to shoot us. He was maybe 20. He was in shock,” Bagwell says.

The next memory still creates dreams for him. He drove up on a wreck on Edgemoor Road near the Bull Run Steam Plant and saw wrecked cars on both sides of the road and what he thought was a doll in the middle of the road. “When I got closer, I saw that it was a little baby girl who was not in a car seat and was thrown from one of the cars. I did CPR on her for about 30 minutes until Lifestar took her. She didn’t make it,” he said. “Still hurts today.”

Bagwell and his wife of 20 years, Renee, live in Halls and attend Grace Baptist Church. Their son, Logan, 17, is a senior. Called “Little Bags,” he is in Rural Metro’s Explorer post. “He wants to follow in my footsteps but I tell him not all of my footsteps,” Bagwell says laughing.

He also mixes work and community service. He’s president of the Powell Business and Professional Association (PBPA) and a member of the Halls BPA. He’s president of the Fountain City BPA and a member of the East Knoxville Business Alliance. Bagwell also is on the Community Advisory Board for Tennova.

Does he ever relax?

“I work. I love to work. I even love to work at home,” he said.

Asst. Chief Rick Harrell said: “… I have had the pleasure of knowing Jeff for over 40 years. Working with him as our PIO is an added bonus. Jeff is passionate about Rural Metro Fire and our mission. He has over 30 years of experience so there is a level of trust to what he is saying and reporting. Regardless of his task or obligations Jeff has the well-being of other people in mind. He is a great friend, solid ambassador and dedicated servant.”

Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and has been 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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