Firefighter. Emergency Medical Technician. Combat Medic. Arson Investigator. Rescue Technician. Rescue/recovery certified scuba diver.
Emergency service is his life.
Lt. Thomas Jackson Giles, best know as T.J., leads the Knox County Rescue (KCR) Water Rescue Team and works out of KCR Station 1 headquarters on North Chilhowee Drive. Giles, 38, joined KCR in August 2019 after working at a number of first-responder agencies and taking trips around the world with the U.S. Army. He’s been a medic in South Korea and a combat medic in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He’s worked for Rural Metro as a firefighter and rescue-medical tech on ambulances departments in Oak Ridge, Oliver Springs and Clinton; the Tennessee Forestry Service as a wildland firefighter, and the Marlow Volunteer Fire Department. He and his wife, Dr. Jamie Giles, and their young son live in Marlow, an unincorporated community between Clinton and Oliver Springs.
Considering all that Giles has done, a few words about him from KCR Deputy Chief John Whited make perfect sense.
“T.J. is one of the best around. He’s a highly skilled rescue tech for us and has a very diverse background that brings many skill sets to Knox County Rescue.”
KCR’s Water Rescue Team has multiple capabilities and an array of equipment – multiple boats, sonar, equipment for swift water and top water rescue, as well as underwater dive rescue and recovery. Giles leads a team of approximately 40 water rescue professionals, and that includes 20 divers in all operations, training and planning.
He recently led the team on two high-profile recovery incidents, locating the helicopter and the body of Joe Clayton in the Tennessee River near Sequoyah Hills on Aug. 3; and recovering the body of a man who drowned in the Fort Dickerson Quarry on Aug. 2. “I actually went from the quarry recovery to the helicopter crash and worked 25 straight hours. Our divers were the first ones in the water on the river,” he said. “And I was back in the boat the next day when we pulled the chopper out of the water.”
The day before, with the assistance of the Blount County Sheriff’s Special Operations Team and its remote operated vehicle, the body of 29-year-old Porifirio Ruiz of Knoxville was recovered at a depth of 180 feet in the quarry. “We’re limited to diving no more than 100 feet down and Fort Dickerson is 215 feet deep,” Giles explained.
Keep in mind that any water-related incident in Knoxville or Knox County brings out the KCR team.
This labor of love began when Giles was a Boy Scout, Troop 228, at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Oak Ridge. While working on a merit badge in fire sciences, he visited the Oak Ridge Fire Department. He was hooked.
He was 13. Shortly after, he transferred to Oliver Springs High School so he could join the Explorer Post of the Oliver Springs Fire Department.
So, what hooked this young man on this life? “It’s really enjoyable. I get to help people. The work is pretty technical and it makes you think on your feet. I’ve done a lot but I’m still learning,” Giles said.
Still learning? This past weekend he’s been on the Hiwassee River training to become a Swiftwater Rescue Technician 2, and he’s also working to earn his dive master credential as well.
‘We are very thankful to have T.J. and his commitment to Knox County along with his skills, and for his service to our country,” Chief Whited added.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-659-35