KFD’s Class of ’96 was special

Tom KingOur Town Heroes

Something very special happened in 1996. The Knoxville Fire Department’s Fire Training Academy class started on May 3 with 29 trainees. All graduated on Sept. 6. This is the Silver Anniversary of that class – and 23 of those men are still with the department and helping lead it.

Are they ever! Wrap your arms around this:

  • Elected by his peers as class president in 1996 was a young Stan Sharp. Today, he is the KFD chief – sworn in as the 17th chief on Sept. 1, 2009.
  • Seven from that class are assistant chiefs – Scott Calloway, John Dodson, Kevin Faddis, Lonnie Glenn, Steve Mitchell, Robert Roche and Brent Seymour.
  • Twelve others are captains – Terry Beeler, Rich Buhl, Jamie Faucon, Les Gibbs, Richard Gibson, Shawn Langley, Joe Lee, Scott Maness, Chris McReynolds, Mike Pickett, Chris Smith and John Steele.
  • Two are master firefighters – David Bost and Mike Hayes – and Vic Rogers is a senior firefighter.

One trainee in that class – Sammy “Shifty” Shaffer – left the KFD and joined the Knoxville Police Department. He is now Lt. Shaffer and became KPD’s training director in January 2020.

Chris McReynolds

Capt. McReynolds at Station 18 on Weisgarber Road, puts it this way: “There are no classes as good as ours … ever. It was like we were a stacked class. It’s hard to get that many good people in one class like that. We also had top-notch training officers and we were and still are a close-knit bunch of guys. It was good times, good people and we were all serious about what we were doing. It was an instant brotherhood.”

Assistant Chief Glenn, recently promoted, also works at Station 18 on the Blue Shift. He and McReynolds were desk mates at the academy. His memories of those days: “… A good pool of guys. We had a blast.

“We had fun for sure, but we all took the training very, very seriously and loved it and still do.”

There is a true story from that academy that for some is a good memory and for others not so good. At the academy stands a tall fire tower used for training. It’s visible from I-40. The concrete and cinderblock tower had a wooden sign on it that read: “Knoxville Fire Department Fire Training Academy.”

Let’s let Assistant Chief Brent Seymour, known as the class clown, tell the story. “We were training to fight an inside fire and we had wooden pallets inside the tower burning and I guess there were too many pallets maybe. The flames came out of one of the windows and caught the sign on fire. It really charcoaled it and burned it off.”

To make a bad situation worse, on the way to visit the academy and driving down I-40, seeing the smoke and flames, was then Asst. Deputy Chief Jack Vandergriff, who passed away in 2019.

“He was upset and he was mad,” says Captain Scott Maness. “It was not a good day for us to burn the sign off the tower at the academy.”

Maness is part of the stories from that class, too. During the class’ first live-fire exercise, Maness was burned, primarily on his left arm. “I had some pretty bad burn areas,” he says. “It was just an accident. I’ve still got the scars. It was pretty tough. I didn’t quit the class though. I had to get back in the class and I learned to overcome my fear of going into a live fire.”

Chief Stan Sharp

And what does Chief Sharp have to say about the class of ’96?

“It’s a neat story, 25 years and all, and it was a good class, but we have a lot of good classes,” he says, ever the diplomat. “1997 and 1998 were good classes, too.”

Not many were surprised Chief Sharp was elected class president or that he’s the chief today. “He was the star of the show,” Maness said.

Seymour, 48, who now serves as the KFD’s Fire Prevention and Planning chief, put it this way: “Stan acted like he had the most sense of any of us. And he did. I don’t think it surprised anyone when he was named chief. He was just part of what we like to think was a pretty special class of firefighters.”

Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes –for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at tking535@gmail.com or call him at 865-659-3562.

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