KFD Capt. Justin Bailey: A go-to mentor & pro

Tom KingOur Town Heroes, Roane

You can look high and low, but around here you’ll be hard-pressed to meet a more well-rounded professional firefighter with multiple skills who thrives on training others, all done with great passion, than Knoxville Fire Department (KFD) Capt. Justin Bailey.

He’s also one of the nicest East Tennessee chaps you’ll ever meet. At 41, he still considers himself a student of the business, always wanting to learn more so he can share his knowledge with others – here and around the country.

This 17-year KFD veteran today works out of the Downtown Headquarters station on Engine 1. When he’s not there you can find him up the road as the chief of the Oliver Springs Volunteer Fire Dept., a job he loves and has held for eight years. His fire career began at that community firehall as a junior firefighter in its Explorer Post in 1999. He was only 16. He’s been there for 25 years. He was just 18 when he completed his Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification. During these years he also spent eight years as a member of the Anderson County Rescue Squad and its Mountain Rescue Team.

And he’s Oliver Springs through and through. “It’s home,” he says.

Family, in fact, is what led him to this career. “My late grandmother, Florence Alcorn, worked at the Oliver Springs Police Department for 25 years in dispatch and when everyone else was out on calls she maintained and managed the jail,” he recalled. “Many of my cousins are and have been police officers and firefighters through the years. It’s just part of who we are.”

And so, it continues. His older son, Bradley, is a volunteer firefighter in Oliver Springs and is currently training and working in the Knoxville Police Department’s (KPD) Cadet program. “I’m still working on him to bring him into the fire business,” he says. Two of his cousins – brothers Seth and Jordan Alcorn – are firefighters for the Oak Ridge Fire Department.

His wife, Brandi, is a former X-ray technician and now a stay-at-home mom for their son Braxton, 12.

Check out Bailey’s professional certifications and qualifications:

  • Firefighter II
  • Fire Officer III
  • Fire Instructor II
  • Hazardous Materials Technician
  • Paramedic
  • Extrication Technician
  • Rope Rescue Technician
  • Certified live fire instructor

And he provides training in these areas:

  • Recruit basic firefighting
  • Engine and truck company operations
  • Firefighter safety and survival
  • Volunteer fire training programs
  • Fireground management
  • Fire instructor development

KFD Capt. Justin Bailey teaching a training class in Syracuse at the New York Association of Fire Chiefs FIRE Conference

In addition to his KFD and Oliver Springs jobs, he is a part-time fire instructor with the state of Tennessee Fire Service and Codes Enforcement Academy, delivering classroom and hands-on instruction on the above topics and others at regional fire conferences and at various local fire departments throughout Tennessee. Bailey is a member of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) and serves as a member ambassador in Tennessee for the society. He has recently been speaking at conferences and events in Ohio, Nebraska and New York.

He’s made time to earn as associate degree in allied health science from Roane State Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Columbia Southern University of Richmond in fire administration.

Bailey graduated from Oliver Springs High School in 2001 and played football for only one season. Football was fun, but he walked away from it and into that Oliver Springs firehall. He knew what he wanted. “I’ve always considered what I do as a calling, like many others I work with. My faith led me to this to answer a question I asked myself – ‘How can I serve others better?’”

Before being Engine 1’s captain, he was a training officer for five years and a master firefighter as he climbed the ranks.

We asked him to describe Capt. Bailey. “I’ve always been about wanting to help others, anyone who needs help, to be a mentor to others. I’m open and friendly and people always say, ‘Call Bailey and he’ll help you out.’ I’m a go-to kinda person and that’s just who I am.”

Some seven or eight years ago Bailey said he had a bad day, a tough day, maybe his toughest ever at work. “We responded to a call about a woman who was unconscious and not breathing. We went into her apartment and started working on her. We did everything we could. Nothing. She was gone. She’d overdosed,” he said. “We went outside and her son, maybe 4 or 5, same age as my son then, wanted to know what’s going on with his mom. It was gut punch, really hard to deal with.”

He cited two major changes in the profession since his career began.

First, it’s technology. “The integration of technology has changed and grown. We are far more reliant on science-based tactics now. The research process drives much of what we do. It requires more training and a workforce that understands technology. Technology is part of the fire engine now and we need higher educated professionals with a broad knowledge base. Much of what we do now is data-based and that means computer analysis and computer skills.”

A shrinking workforce is his second concern the lack of young people joining the profession. “It’s no secret that we have many firefighters creeping up on retirement and replacing them is a serious issue for our department and for other communities. We’ve got to do a better job of recruiting young people and explaining to them why they need to be in this job,” he says. “This is a career that matters, that makes a difference, that saves lives almost every day somewhere.”

Being only 41, he does have a career goal in mind. “I’d like to eventually get into fire administration. I aspire to being a chief of a fire department if it works that way at some point in the future,” he said. “If not, I’ll continue doing what I do plus the teaching and trying to bring young people into our profession. We need them now.”

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 or text him at 865-659-3562.


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