Jeremiah McLeod: ‘He leads & inspires’

Tom KingOur Town Heroes, South Knox

A man who recently slipped and fell from a ladder to the bottom of a 30-foot vat in East Knox County is alive today thanks to a four-person team of Rural Metro Fire heroes who specialize in “technical rescues” – led by Capt. Jeremiah McLeod.

This rescue lasted two hours and it was very technical. The team leader was Capt. McLeod, 50, who guided his three-man squad through the process – Capt. Brian Graham, and firefighters Keith McCroskey and T.J. Giles. McLeod works out of Station 27 in Strawberry Plains and his “real” three-man crew was in training so he pulled in Graham, McCroskey and Giles for this incident. All three are trained in technical rescue.

Capt. Jeremiah McLeod

Graham also is a paramedic. He and McCroskey were in the tank with the victim assessing his injures and preparing him for his extraction. The vat still held some transmission fluid plus water and products used to clean the tank. Giles was up top with McLeod standing on a second vat, handling the safety duties.

The accident happened on Thursday, June 29, at the Exedy plant in the East Bridge Industrial Park near Mascot. Capt. Jeff Bagwell, Rural Metro’s public information officer, said the injured man was a subcontractor who was cleaning out a tank containing transmission fluid. “He was wrapping up the project when he slipped and fell into the tank from the ladder and had minor injuries to his extremities, but couldn’t climb out on his own,” Bagwell said.

Rural Metro used a tripod belay system with ropes and harnesses to get the man out and into an ambulance for the ride to the UT Medical Center.

Exedy is an international company that manufactures a variety of automobile parts.

Rural Metro’s technical rescue program includes rescues from confined spaces, trenches, swift water, vehicles, collapsed structures and underwater (its dive team). The Jacksonville, Florida, native joined Rural Metro in 2016. He and his family moved to Knoxville in 2009 after he sold his land survey company in Deland, Florida.

“We had visited here and loved this area so we made the move,” he said. “I liked Johnson Bible College and this area is not Florida. Everything in Florida wants to kill you – the heat, the snakes, the alligators and the weather.”

His wife of 31 years, Courtney, is a family nurse practitioner and owns Marble City Medical in the Seymour area of South Knox County. They have two adult children and three grandchildren.

Outside of Rural Metro, McLeod was part of Knox County Rescue (formerly known as the Volunteer Rescue Squad) for several years and was its dive team captain and was also on the rope and vehicle recue teams. He currently is an active volunteer with the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department and has been since 2011.

McLeod is an interesting fellow. During his land survey days, he spent parts of two summers in the Middle East doing surveys for teams working on archaeological digs in Jordan. He holds bachelor’s degrees in management of nonprofits, intercultural studies, and Bible 2012 (honors) from Johnson University. He has also worked for two agencies in Oregon filling a variety of roles related to fire, rescues and training.

When asked what led him into the emergency services business, his answer was quick: “Instant gratification. Everyone does something workwise that they want to do, something they love and enjoy making someone’s day or life better and helping people. It feels good. I really enjoy helping people.”

“And it’s a challenge. Not everyone wants to do this work or can do this work. You’ve got to love a job that could kill you in an instant. And technical rescue is a thinking man’s sport. It takes critical thinking about the problem and situation and to figure how best to deal with it and find a solution to the rescue.”

The very first thing you read on McLeod’s resume is his objective when it comes to work “…. To secure a position that allows me to draw on my experience, education and training in directing and executing plans during times of acute crisis to facilitate the best outcome under the most unfavorable conditions.”

That’s what happened at the vat on June 29, 2023.

McLeod’s “boss” is Battalion Chief Eric Knoefel and we asked him to share his thoughts about McLeod: “Jeremiah brings a lot of confidence to the job, in part because of his travels and accomplishments. However, it’s his ability to lead and inspire confidence in others that stands out most about him. I’m truly lucky to get to work beside him.”

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.


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