In 1981, cute little Linny Ruth Philpot was a second-grader at Julia R. Ewing Elementary School in Lexington, Kentucky. She was 8 and was with her class in the library. Their assignment: find a book you think would be fun to read and do a report on it. She found a book about the FDNY – the Fire Department of New York City.
“It was fun and really interesting, seeing the fire engines, the ladders and firemen on the sides of buildings fighting fires and flames, the hoses and everything,” she remembers.
“The librarian walked over and saw what I was reading and told me to get another book, that being a fireman was a man’s job. I thought that was silly and thought why can’t I do that job. It upset me.”
That librarian, unknowingly, lit a fire that burns to this day!
It’s been 41 years since she read that book (yes, she checked it out anyway) and today that little girl is Linny Ruth Philpot Blair, or down at KFD’s Headquarters Station 1 she’s known as Capt. Linny Blair on Engine 2. She is one of 14 firefighting women at KFD.
Blair is going into her 19th year – all working at HQ downtown. She started on Engine 1, then moved to Engine 2 and Tanker 1 and eventually to Rescue 1 where she stayed for seven years working accidents, wrecks and going to fires. “I’ve loved every day of it too and I often think back to that librarian and what she told me and how it’s always motivated me.”
Before KFD she had one paying job and one volunteer job. She was a dental assistant for 10 years for an oral surgeon. And for 15 years she was a volunteer for the Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad, now Knox County Rescue. “I knew one day if I did become a firefighter at KFD this would help me,” she says.
She is a certified advanced emergency medical technician (AEMT) and while at the Rescue Squad she was part of its heavy rescue team, the cave and vertical team, the swiftwater rescue team as well as working wrecks and other calls.
That’s where she met a man named Tony Blair, also a rescue squad volunteer who was its chief then. Marriage followed.
In 2003 that firefighting and emergency bug bit her again and she left the dental world for the KFD. “I figured if I didn’t do it, I’d be too old to try,” she says.
Let’s throw one additional wrinkle into the story of Linny’s life – she’s done all of this while rearing six kids, who today range from 30 to 15. That fact alone garners “hero” status! Here’s the lineup:
- Taryn, 30, just graduated from Pellissippi State Community College’s nursing program and starts work in July as an R.N. at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.
- Jacob, 29, is in his sixth year at the Knox County 911 Dispatch Center.
- A.J., 25, works at Malibu Boats.
- Sydney, 23, has a degree in biology, works as a pharmacy tech and is hoping to become a pharmacist.
- Drew, 21, does new construction plumbing for The Pipe Doctor.
- Brody, 15, attends Hardin Valley Academy and may follow in Mom’s footsteps. “That would be so exciting. We’d be the first ever mother-son duo at the fire department,” Linny says.
Did she talk shop at home when all of the kids were home? “We don’t talk about it a lot, what I do. I know the kids talk about it. But I don’t talk about calls in front of them unless it’s a funny one and we do have funny ones,” she said.
How can a mother with a full-time job like hers juggle that and dealing with the lives of six children? “Truthfully, it’s my husband, Tony,” Linny said. “I could not have done it without him. He got them ready for school when I was at work and the next morning when I’ve not gotten home from my 24-hour shift yet.”
Linny’s an interesting lady. Away from work she loves all things Harry Potter – the books and the movies. “I have Harry Potter stuff hanging all over the house and the kids think it’s crazy,” she said. She’s also learning how to speak German and hopes to visit there one day. She’s also a World War II history buff which also attracts her to Germany.
And a few other Linny tidbits: They call her “Den Mother” at work (“Some of them are younger than my kids,” she says.)
Being from Lexington she’s a big University of Kentucky fan … At home she and her husband go to separate rooms with their Play Stations and play video games and also play with others online … She’s rescued cats and dogs and been stung by yellow jackets … And helped rescue people during Hurricane Florence in the fall of 2018.
She says her firefighting team of 13 on her shift “are like a family to me. I work with a bunch of brothers and sisters and I love them all. I love the job and the people. I love it that each day is unique and we never know what it will be like. It’s the best job in the world and it’s never mundane.”
Thinking back to what the librarian said to her, she says: “These days when I am around kids, I never forget to tell the little girls that there’s nothing they can’t do. Nothing.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at [email protected] or call him at 865-659-3562.