John Brinkley: He serves his community & country

Tom KingFeature, Karns, Our Town Heroes

In the emergency-services world of Knox County and East Tennessee, the name John Brinkley is well known. For his first 14 years in Knoxville, he was a first responder on a Rural Metro ambulance, starting in 1992. For the past 12 years, he’s been a behind-the-scenes force in training, disaster planning, operations management and quality assurance.


Today, his title at AMR is quality improvement and disaster planning officer. That’s 26 years at AMR, the parent company of Rural Metro. He’s been a busy man.

His small office at AMR’s headquarters has a desk and two large computer screens, and beyond that its appearance is akin to that of a mini-warehouse. His job includes:

  • Assuring that all 54 ambulances are properly equipped with the appropriate medications
  • Reviewing all medical reports and counseling employees to promote professional development
  • Representing AMR on the Region II EMS Directors Association on the Healthcare Coalition
  • Serving on the Knoxville/Knox County Emergency Management Group and the Region II EMS Disaster Planning Committee
  • Serving as AMR liaison to local hospitals and hospital disaster planning
  • Providing ID cards for all employees
  • Ordering and replacing uniforms for all employees.

He helps with the training for police, fire, EMS, security officers and others on disaster plans for tornadoes, active shooters, chemical spills and safety in our schools.

It’s no wonder he has two cell phones. The scope of his work and the depth of his knowledge in many areas is fascinating.

And then there’s this. In the middle of his emergency-services career, he has been deployed overseas twice as a combat medic: in Afghanistan (2011-12) as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom (2004-06).

For his service in Afghanistan, Sgt. First Class John A. Brinkley was awarded the Bronze Star. He served mainly at what are known as “FOBs” – forward operating bases. He was shot at many times, and sometimes he shot back. He was knocked off of his feet by roadside bombs more than once. He saw plenty and dealt with a lot of it hands-on, saving lives or trying to save the lives of soldiers and buddies he served with daily. He also worked on some of the bad guys.

How does he relax these days? He jumps on his Yamaha 1300 motorcycle. “Being on the bike makes me focus on just riding and nothing else,” he says. “It’s great fun to just ride.” He’s usually not alone. Wife Shonda rides along on her Honda. “Take that S off, and her name is Honda,” he says, laughing. Shonda is an occupational therapist, and she rides a Honda Shadow motorcycle.

He also loves camping with the family. The couple have two sons. Jacob, 21, is now serving in the U.S. Air Force at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. His brother, James, is a senior at Karns High School. Both are Eagle Scouts.

John Brinkley’s work in our community has brought him awards, but this man who loves working behind the scenes says very little about awards and honors. In June 2018, the Optimist Club of Knoxville presented him its “American Hero Award.” Two weeks ago, the Region II EMS Directors Association presented him the “President’s Award.” He also was honored with a Certificate of Appreciation from the state Department of Homeland Security for his work on hurricane disasters in Florida and Texas, school disaster drills, the Stop the Bleed program and his work with the Healthcare Coalition.

He wears many hats, attends many meetings and helps create plans to make our schools and community safe.

“I love what I do. I was raised to make a positive difference in someone’s life, to help people, and that’s what I do,” he said. “My theory is that the best way to treat an injury is to prevent an injury.”

(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service personnel. Watch for this feature every Monday in KnoxTNToday.com, and if you have suggestions about someone we need to feature, email Tom King at tking535@gmail.com)

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