When he was a little kid growing up on Dempster Avenue in Memphis, he couldn’t help himself. When the fire trucks came rumbling down the street, sirens screaming, lights flashing, Larry McAfee Jr. was off and running, chasing the trucks and waving to the firefighters. It happened a lot.
He especially liked chasing the “tillers” – the trucks that once were known as “hook and ladders” – yep – the same name of the sandwich at Firehouse Subs. Being a firefighter was his dream job. Fast forward to his senior year at East High School in 2004. The prediction in his yearbook was that he would be a Memphis firefighter or an entrepreneur. Firefighter it would be, but not in River City.
Today, McAfee is in his 10th year with the Knoxville Fire Department (KFD). The 36-year-old is a master firefighter and pilots Engine 11 at the Whittle Springs Station 11. He’s also president of the executive board of the Knoxville Firefighter Association, a KFD incident safety officer and a member of KFD’s Technical Rescue Team. And a respected chef in Station 11’s kitchen.
When he graduated from high school, he received a HOPE scholarship to the University of Tennessee. “I grew up in Memphis and I wanted to get out of there and I did,” he said. In 2009, he graduated with a degree in exercise science and immediately enrolled at Roane State Community College, his first step to a firefighter position. He then worked for two years with two ambulance services before applying to the KFD.
On July 2, 2012, McAfee attended his first classes at the Training Academy. But first things first. Two days prior, on Saturday, June 30, he married the love of his life, Brittney. On Sunday, July 1, they had what he calls a “Highway Honeymoon” driving on I-40 from Memphis to Knoxville.
These days it’s busy in their North Knoxville home with three kids to manage – Torin, 14, Tristen, 8, and Teghan, 5. Brittney is a CVS pharmacy tech.
Larry loves his career and the KFD. “This is my career, right here, I’m in it for the long haul,” this soft-spoken man says. “Yeah, I’d love to move on up, captain and battalion chief, but right now I still like fighting fires.” And helping with rescues. “I do this because it’s about helping people, the adrenalin rush you get inside a burning house or business or a successful tech rescue. I enjoy the work, helping our community, being successful for my family.
On January 13, he was still in the trench when the second of two men was rescued at 8 p.m. from a trench collapse at a construction site in Powell. McAfee was part of the KPD rescue team. The first man was pulled free at 6 p.m. Both survived.
Like most in the profession, he’s had a few close calls but does not discuss them at home. Or anywhere for that matter. Another day at the office, so to speak.
He stays in shape by working out at the station during his 24-hour shifts. Cooking is a hobby at work and at home. So, what is his No. 1 hobby? “I like to rest,” he says. He works three days of 24 hours on and 24 off and then has four days off.
The only aspect of the job he does not like is being away from home and the kids on his workdays. “I’m missing a few things for sure, but Brittney picks up the slack for me,” he said.
This 5-9, 245-pounder is affectionately known as “Piñata” at the firehouse. Piñata? “Yep, that’s what they call me. I always have lots of candy on me. Snacks. Fries from Krystal. Little Debbie Cakes, Nutri-Grain bars, all kinds of candy bars. They come to me for sweets,” he says.
Camaraderie is a big thing for McAfee, so much so that this past week he and 10 other KFD professionals attended the FDIC International Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, that offers some of the top training and education courses for the fire and rescue industry.
“Like I told you, I love what I do and what we all do together,” he says.
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 865-659-3562.