Every emergency service organization in Knoxville and Knox County will tell you their biggest challenge is recruiting young people into the profession. So, when young Justin Faulkner walked into the headquarters of Knox County Rescue (KCR) in January 2018, things started looking up.
He was 21 then. He’s 23 now, and he’s made some kind of an impact on this squad that plays a vital role in our community’s rescue and first-responder force.
“Justin represents the next generation of Knox County Rescue,” says KCR Deputy Chief John Whited. “Boy, I will tell you, he’s a good one and I mean he’s a true good one. He’s really level-headed and mature and a good person – smart, works hard and tries to take care of the little things. He could run this place one day.”
The emergency certifications and skills he’s learned in only two years get your attention. Here’s a sampling of what he does at KCR: vehicle extrication, water/dive rescue, structural collapse, confined space/trench rescue, cave /vertical rescue and animal rescue. He is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and currently serves as the KCR interim Assistant Chief of Administration, Training and Safety. Almost forgot this. He’s also attending Rural Metro’s Fire Academy.
“He went to every class we offered, and he’s worked hard,” Whited added. “He had to work hard to get these skills so quickly.”
Faulkner is a Fountain City boy through and through. Born at the old St. Mary’s, schooled at Shannondale Elementary, Gresham Middle and Central High School, graduate of the class of 2014. He was a Boy Scout and played trumpet in the Central marching and symphonic bands for four years.
Emergency service is in his DNA. His parents are Anne and Greg Faulkner. Greg is a 28-year veteran of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and for the past 12 years has served as the supervisor of KCSO’s Family Crimes Center Unit.
About that, Justin says: “Dad is, of course, one of my role models, a lot of the reason I am where I am today. His work ethic rubbed off on me and showed me the opportunity you can have if you’re willing to work for it. It’s almost emotional for me…seeing what all Dad did and is still doing for our community. It’s better to give more than you take, and the more I give the better I feel.”
In 2016 Justin had the “opportunity” to see rescue work from the pavement at the intersection of Broadway and Essary Road. He was on his motorcycle going 40 mph when a car pulled out in front of him. “I hit the brakes and the bike threw me off. I tumbled and rolled about 40 feet and it could have been a lot worse for me if a KFD (Knoxville Fire Department) engine had not been sitting at the intersection waiting for the light to change,” he says.
He spent a week at UT Medical Center in ICU – a level 3 spleen laceration with internal bleeding that caused the most concern, four broken ribs, a broken left wrist and road rash. No head injuries. His helmet stayed on. “That was a godsend for me for sure,” he says. He sold the motorcycle.
Two years later, the other side came into focus. In July 2018, six months after joining KCR, he responded to a car accident call on Maynardville Highway at 7:30 a.m. that vividly showed him what he faces in this career he has chosen. “A mother with three kids in a van was crossing Maynardville Highway and a man on the other side lost control and crossed the median. He had his son in the car,” he remembers. “It was my first extrication and it took us an hour to free her. Lifestar took her to UT Hospital and she survived. Her kids were all ok. But the man driving the other car died. His son survived.”
Justin paused. “It was the big eye-opening moment for me about what I was getting myself into and what this job entails. But I was prepared and trained for it. That’s where my passion for this work comes from, thinking about and helping the victims and their families. You have to make yourself numb when you are helping them, so you can keep your focus and do what you need to do for them. You deal with your feelings later.”
In 2018 and 2019 his KCR peers voted this young man as the Shift Qualified Member of the Year. He was working as a dispatcher at the UT Police Department when he began volunteering at KCR. “I was working 12-16 hours a week at KCR then,” he says. “Within three to four months I became shift qualified (which means he could drive the rescue vehicles) to respond to calls. Some people may think that was too fast, but I was here and wanted to make myself useful. I like to get things done. Making myself an asset to the squad was important to me.”
He’s even living at the old Rural Metro North Station on Cunningham Road. He runs calls from there as well and works his three 24-hour shifts each week.
“This is going to be my career,” he says. “You have to have the want and the drive to do this work, and I have both.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at (865) 659-3562.