KFD’s DJ Corcoran: He’s retiring Friday

Tom KingFountain City, Our Town Heroes

Daniel Joseph “DJ” Corcoran’s path into retirement began almost three years ago on the evening of December 29, 2018. His and wife Wendy’s youngest child, Pierce Kennedy Corcoran, 22, died in a wreck on Chapman Highway. When you see a picture of a smiling Pierce, you see DJ.

DJ’s retirement path ends Friday, four days away, when the 48th annual WIVK Christmas Parade begins at 7 p.m. in downtown Knoxville. His last assignment as the Knoxville Fire Department’s Public Information Officer (PIO) ends when the department’s new “Tiller” truck – Ladder 1 – rolls off to show its stuff to the town with its front and rear drivers steering this big rig.

“As soon as the Tiller starts in the parade, I’ll get in my car and ride back to the administrative offices and turn in my car and my radio and head home,” DJ, 56, says. “But I’m keeping my badge.”

Capt. DJ Corcoran’s first ID card with the KFD

He’s proudly worn that badge for 28 years, half of his life, and his public service is part of a family legacy of public service. His late father, “Big Jim” Corcoran, worked at the Knoxville Police Department. His grandfather, great grandfather and uncles were KFD firefighters.

The man who has been the public voice, face and persona of the KFD for the past 12 years as its PIO is also a captain, a firefighter, and master firefighter. He began at Engine Co. 11. Then 14 years at Headquarters Station 1, assigned, as fate would have it, to Ladder 1. Then Chief Robert Key pulled him into the PIO job in 2008.

“I’m just tired. I was told that I’d know when it was time to leave, and it’s time. Age catches up with you,” he said in an uncharacteristic subdued voice for DJ. “But losing Pierce is about 90% of my decision. Losing him is a constant reminder to me about choosing work over family and I don’t think I want to do that any longer.

“It’s coming up on three years since he died. It’s still very hard for me to accept his death. I feel guilty I was not around the family and Pierce more. Heck, I was in Memphis when he died, working. I guess it is guilt. I feel sadness so much. It’s still there and it’s been three years and nothing has gone away. Pierce was such a good kid. I just miss him and Wendy does too, but women are stronger than men and she doesn’t show it like I do,” he said.

“This career is a big part of who I am and my life. I missed so much family time and it was a big sacrifice. And your kids want your time, not cars or money, just your time and love. Life is more important than work. I’m just ready for a change and I hope retirement helps.”

He’s off to a good start. He and Wendy, married for 33 years, spent this past weekend in Charleston, just the two of them. He plans to spend more time with daughter Avery Corcoran Presley, 31, and her husband Tim, and son Connor, 28.

DJ is the youngest of the seven Corcoran kids, all graduates of Fulton High School. They’re a product of Fountain City and North Knoxville and all seven still live here – four sisters and two brothers. A sister, Sherry Witt, is Knox County Clerk, elected in 2018.

The PIO position came along because of two jobs DJ had after high school. He spent a combined four years at WVLT-TV and WATE-TV as a video photographer, covering all types of news and sporting events, including fires, wrecks and other newsy events.

Has he enjoyed the PIO job? He calls it “icing on the cake. I have enjoyed it. It’s the best of both worlds, the work and now telling the stories of KFD, something I really love and am proud of. I enjoy people, talking and being around people. This has been something near and dear to me.”

His quick thoughts on the media landscape today:

  • Everybody is a news reporter with an electronic device in their hands.
  • The quality of news today is nothing like it used to be.
  • It grates on him when people use their phones to record an accident or fire instead of calling 911 to report it, as a news reporter did a few years back. A bank was under construction on Kingston Pike and caught fire. “The kids at the Chick-fil-A next door called 911 instead of the reporter who was recording so he could be first with the news.”

What’s next for DJ? “I plan on doing absolutely nothing for a little bit. I’ve never really sat still for long and I’ll get tired and bored,” he said. “I may do some work for my brother Corky. More time with Wendy and the kids for sure.”

He will miss the people at KFD and the camaraderie. “Being with people on their worst day and helping them – I’ll miss that. We have a really good group of people, and I mean caring people, working in this department. I know where they stand … and sometimes it isn’t fun and can be really hard on them.”

Two KFD pros, two longtime personal and professional friends of DJ, were asked to say a few words about him.

First up is Battalion Chief Lonnie Glenn. “We are definitely going to miss DJ. You can’t replace a guy with 28 years of experience. DJ has demonstrated his dedication to the department and this city. What he has overcome in his personal life, and still doing the job every day, is a testament to this. Thanks for making us all better, DJ.”

The Rev. Paul Trumpore, fire captain and KFD’s chaplain, added:

“He is one of the most honorable, faithful, kind, friendly, humble, integrity-filled people I know – sounds like a Boy Scout. He would make a great poster for them. I have rarely seen him without a smile. But in the last few years I know many tears have flowed behind those bright eyes and pearly whites. He will be sorely missed here, but I know he will have great successes in whatever he does. I wish him and Wendy relaxation and peace in retirement. This is a big loss.”

Amen to that!

Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at tking535@gmail.com or call him at 865-659-3562.

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