Today we meet a man in our town, a 54-year-old who would be the last guy to claim to be a hero. He just does his job day in and day out; he’s a soft-spoken, humble fellow from Vestal in South Knoxville who has given his life to public service.
At the Knox County Rescue (KCR) he’s known as Capt. Hugh Laxton. At the Knoxville Fire Department (KFD) Headquarters Station 1 downtown, he’s also known as Capt. Hugh Laxton.
He is in his 39th year at KCR, which used to be known as the Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad. He began as an Explorer at 14 at the squad and became a full member in 1983.
After jobs at Moore’s Building Supply and 10 years at Holston Gases, Laxton made a career change and joined Rural Metro in 1995. In 2001 he switched to KFD.
He has given 68 years of collective service to our community, both the city and the county. And for the past 20 years, he’s worked security one day a week at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
His firefighting forte is heavy and technical rescue work at both KCR and KFD. At KFD he’s the captain on the huge heavy Rescue 1 truck, which he describes as a “giant toolbox.” He’s in the truck on every fire call just in case it’s needed. He responds to other calls as needed. If the initial engine arrives at an accident and sees a car’s roof caved in, for example, they call for Laxton’s rig to do the rescue work.
He also is on the Swift Water Technical Rescue Team at both agencies. Laxton is skilled at trench rescues, building collapses and cave rescue and is on the KFD’s Urban Search & Rescue Team. As a member of that team, he spent 10 days in Houston after Hurricane Harvey hit on Aug. 17, 2017. He also worked the tornadoes in Putnam County and Cookeville earlier this year and at the recent tornadoes in Chattanooga.
He’s also one of the chefs on his shift. The day we visited Station 1 he was preparing a Taco Bar dinner for 15. We asked a fellow firefighter if he is a good cook: “Well, I’ll put it this way. None of us have died yet.”
Another KFD veteran, newly promoted Assistant Chief Lonnie Glenn, who has worked with Laxton “since forever,” says about him: “He’s one of the best in the business, especially when it comes to any type of rescue situation! He is highly respected by our department and surrounding departments!”
KCR Deputy Chief John Whited has enjoyed working with Laxton for many years. “Hugh is a long-serving member of KCR. He has dedicated his life to serving Knox County. Hugh is a highly skilled rescuer with several decades of experience. Great man!”
Public service runs in his family. His father was a Knox County Sheriff’s deputy for 15 years, and he has had two uncles who were Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers.
Laxton has literally seen it all – fires, wrecks, all types of specialized rescues that require an array of special talents and skills mastered by years of experience, working the aftermath of hurricanes and natural disasters, pulling bodies from cars, trucks, fires, lakes and rivers.
He’s already looking forward to October: That’s when KFD’s new heavy rescue truck arrives. This specialized truck, including taxes and title, is $929,000 out the door. He just smiled about his new toy. “We really need this new truck and it will be both work and fun getting it ready,” he said.
Laxton will have 25 years with the department in five more years and he’ll be 59. “I’ll be out the door and enjoying retirement,” he said. “We love to go camping up on Douglas Lake and may do a little traveling.”
He and wife Dawn met at John Sevier Baptist Church and have been married for 32 years. Interestingly, she is a retired dispatcher for Rural Metro, but they didn’t know one another when both worked there.
Here are a few closing thoughts about Capt. Laxton from KFD Deputy Chief Gary Compton: “Any time we talk about rescue services, we have to insert Capt. Hugh Laxton’s name into the conversation. We are fortunate as a community and a fire department to have a person with his level of talent serving our community.”
Editor’s Note: Our Town Heroes highlights Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions for someone to feature, email Tom King or call him at 865-659-3562.