KFD Capt. Robertson: ‘It’s all about the team’

Tom KingOur Town Heroes

Darrell Robertson’s approach to his job sounds so simple, but the job is not so simple. His words, carefully chosen, truly reflect the essence and the professionalism of this dedicated public servant.

“I am just the guy who shows up to work and will do everything I can to make the day a good day. I have always strived to not let my co-workers down and always have their backs. I hope they know that, because in our line of work, it takes a total team effort,” he says. “It’s always about the team working together.”

Darrell Robertson

Robertson is a Knoxville Fire Dept. (KFD) captain at Station 15 in Fountain City on Ladder 15. He is a 24-year veteran firefighter, and in two days, on Wednesday, May 8, he will celebrate his 54th birthday. He has seen many things he’d like to forget but can’t. In this career and calling, he says, you must constantly reset your focus to survive.

He thinks back to a long-ago wreck – in either 2001 or 2002 – when an 18-wheeler ran up the back of a family van and landed on top of it. “I was on the first engine on the scene and we didn’t even know the van was under the truck. You could not see it until they started moving the truck. It was flattened. Horrible. A mother and two children were killed in the van.”

My memory box is getting full, and there are so many now he says he can’t recall all of them. “You see body parts; you see awful car wrecks that maim and kill people. When you walk up to the wrecks, we have no idea what we are about to see and what we have to do,” he explains. “All of our training kicks in and we do what we have to do. But seeing how some people, adults and children, die is just crushing. It’s all real too.”

Robertson is a native of Cherokee, N.C., a 1988 graduate of Swain County High School. He is a 16th degree Cherokee Indian and a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokees. The Robertson family lives in Halls. Wife Beth works part-time in the catering business and they have two children. Emma, 26, works at the University of Tennessee Breast Cancer Center, and son Avery, 22, is studying Wildlife Management at UT.

This is a family that loves the outdoors. Hiking, camping and fishing for trout on the Clinch River mostly and for bass on Cherokee, Melton Hill, and Douglas lakes in their bass boat. Son Avery has recently gotten into kayak fishing. Relaxation for Robertson is walking the dogs, enjoying movies, fishing, the beach and watching his favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves.

Growing up in Swain County, a job was easy to find at one of the factory textile companies. After a bit of time at one of the factories, things changed. “I knew I needed to leave and get out of there, that there has to be more to the world than this,” he says. So, he decided to move to Knoxville. After making a few friends, he found a job as a runner for a law firm, a job he kept for 10 years. He also found more than a paycheck there. One of his co-workers had a very attractive sister – the aforementioned Beth. They’ve been wed now for 30 years.

Another friend who worked for the city of Knoxville talked him into to leaving the firm for more money and security with either the Knoxville Police Dept. or the fire department. “I picked the fire department. I told my buddy that I ain’t too crazy about being shot at.”

Keep in mind that 80% to 90% of the emergencies KFD responds to are medical-related calls and the rest are fire alarms. Robertson says he thrives in the job because every call and every day are different. “The job is always different. It’s the same but different. No two fires are the same. No wrecks are the same. No medical calls to someone’s home are the same. Sometimes as we finish one call we immediately head out to the next call. You get these adrenalin rushes. What we do matters to those who need us and it matters to all of us, too.”

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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