John Mark Duncan juggles many balls and the good people at Knox County Rescue are happy that one has KCR written on it. And all the balls have one trait in common – they are about the word “family.”
“Family?” you say. Yes, family.
- He’s one of nine kids of Robin and Gary Duncan, reared on a dairy farm in Grainger County. Six boys, three girls – and they’re all still living here.
- He and wife Christina have three children, all boys – Tristin, 18; Dylan, 11; and Wyatt, 3 months. Tristin and Dylan are from Christina’s first marriage, but John Mark adopted them. Wyatt is their new baby.
- His KCR family – a family he has grown to love after four years of volunteering at KCR’s headquarters Station 1.
- Then there’s his full-time job family at Red Stag Fulfillment, an e-commerce company that ships products from clients direct to their customers. He is the facilities manager for their 200,000-square-foot facility in the Forks of the River Industrial Park with an additional 160,000 square feet to open soon.
And John Mark, as he is called, is only 26 years old.
Just before marrying Christina four years ago, he did a few ride-a-longs with a friend who was also a KCR volunteer. The KCR bug bit him big time.
“Our motto that’s on that wall says, ‘In your most critical hour we are there.’ It doesn’t say I am there – it says we are there. We are a team. Anytime I run a call when I’m not on shift it’s because I know I am going to help out the guys on the truck,” he says.
“I keep coming back every week for my 12- to 15-hour shift because I’m invested. This is my second family.”
John Mark is an EMR – Emergency Medical Responder. That’s the basic level for a volunteer. He’s also a member of KCR’s Water Rescue and Heavy Rescue team. “I’m mostly a gopher. I get the trucks there, I help with unloading the equipment and helping the divers get their tanks on,” he says.
KCR Deputy Chief John Whited puts it another way. “John Mark is a true value to the citizens of Knox County. He has a true volunteer heart and just wants to help. John Mark Duncan applies his training and his experience to serve others. He is a great asset to his community and his family and our family.”
He’s the Saturday night volunteer, arriving around 5 p.m. and staying until 7 a.m. unless there’s a call he’s still working. He stays until the call is completed. He also responds to calls from home and work in his KCR-issued SUV because he works and lives not far from Station 1.
He is quick to praise his employer for their understanding of his KCR responsibilities. “I’m grateful for the many opportunities Red Stag has given me and for allowing me to volunteer with KCR. They have given me the freedom to respond from work when needed and allowed for time off when I’ve needed to participate in training or when calls have extended over to work hours,” he said. “Great family company.”
John Mark is often the first emergency responder to calls unless the Knox County Sheriff’s Office is already there. A KCR unit responds to all vehicle accident calls in Knox County, plus medical calls and other types of emergencies. He sees a lot of unpleasant things and the suffering victims experience.
“The most emotionally draining thing I have seen really caught me off guard,” he said, thinking back two years to a two-car accident. “One of the cars rolled and a young teenage girl was ejected. She ended up away from the car and was killed instantly. When the father walked around the car and saw her it was really hard. We had to pull him away. It was hard to see what this family was going through and the grief they would be going through.”
John Mark says he learned one important lesson that day. “You can’t focus on what you see but what you have to do.”
He also is a devout Christian. They are members of Cornerstone Church of Knoxville in West Knoxville. When he finishes his shift on Sunday mornings, they watch the services together at home because of COVID-19. He graduated from Berean Christian School in 2013 and grew up attending Berean Bible Church in Knox County. At KCR his nickname is “Pope.”
In addition to the family farm, John Mark’s father, Gary, has owned Duncan & Sons Building Maintenance since 1989. Two sons help him there; Luke is vice president and Ruben is director of operations.
“My Dad is the most hard-working man I have ever seen,” John Mark says. “I credit him for my work ethic.” A typical work week for John Mark is approximately 70 hours at KCR and Red Stag combined.
It’s all wrapped around family for him – his birth family, his KCR family and his Red Stag family. “What I have learned here at KCR helps me at work and everywhere. When you go through and experience stuff with people it brings you closer together, and we talk about the calls and what we see and feel. That’s what families do – love and support one another.”
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 email@example.com or 865-659-3562.