Nate Patterson: Follows dad into EMS work

Tom KingNorth Knoxville, Our Town Heroes

Today, let’s meet Nathan “Nate” Patterson, a big man – 6-1, 300 pounds and affectionately called “Chunky” by his buddies. He comes by it honestly. More about that later on. Family man with wife Natasha and four kids at home, ages 20 to 11. He is a very busy fellow.

  • Full-time Knoxville Fire Department (KFD) senior firefighter and critical care paramedic at Station 11 in North Hills.
  • Reserve firefighter for Rural Metro Fire.
  • Part-time paramedic/EMT for AMR Ambulances.
  • EMS (Emergency Medical Services) instructor at KFD’s Training Academy and adjunct EMS instructor at Roane State Community College.
  • Working on an associate degree at Roane State in allied sciences.
  • EMS work at all University of Tennessee home football, basketball and baseball games.

To carry that load, one must love the job or jobs. Without a doubt, Patterson, 40, does.

“I have grown to love this career. I have a deep love for emergency medical services EMS. It is ingrained in me. Some people think I cut my teeth on the side of a stretcher,” he says. “I have fallen in love with being a firefighter. My passion is helping people and all that goes along with these jobs. My heart is that of a servant and I love what I do.”

Nathan Patterson

He was reared mostly in Lenoir City during the week, living with his mother, Karen Pressley. He spent weekends with his father, and you can’t write about Nate without writing about his late father, an EMS legend in Knox County and East Tennessee, Ronnie Dale Patterson. Known as “The Gentle Giant” by many, he was 6-7, 350 pounds who died at age 54 of a heart attack on Christmas Day, 2013. Ironically, that was son Nate’s first day of working as a paramedic for AMR Ambulance.

“He lived in Seymour and I got the call that he was in the ambulance headed for UT Medical Center,” Nate says. “I jumped in my car and got there before the ambulance. When they backed in and opened the door I jumped in and started helping doing CPR on him. But I had to try to bring him back. If I’d not done it, I would still be questioning myself today. It was rough and I still have troubles with it. He taught me CPR. It was kinda like he passed the torch to me that day.”

His father spent 40 years in the EMS business. He was Knox County’s EMS director from 1992 to 2003. He was part of the first crew on the UT Medical Center’s Lifestar helicopters. He taught a huge number of men and women how to be EMS workers. He volunteered for the Knox County Rescue Squad.

“He loved the ambulances and had no desire to fight fires,” his son said. “In the EMS world here he was a legend and affected many people’s lives and work.”

And his Dad’s reputation and legacy added a heavy burden on his son’s shoulders, so much so that in 2003 he left the profession. “I took a hiatus from 2003 to 2006. I ran from the career. I got tired of the expectations and pressure of being Ronnie Patterson’s boy,” he said.

But after three years of working in the CVS Warehouse on Parkside Drive, he was missing the EMS work and disliked working indoors day after day in what he said was a boring job, doing the same thing every day with the same people.

In 2006 he returned to the AMR Ambulances and in 2007 began a seven-year run as a full-time firefighter/engineer at the Karns Fire Department (Karns station). In August 2015 he began at the KFD training academy and graduated in December 2015. He spent his first five KFD years at Station 17 on Oak Ridge Highway and moved to Station 11 on Whittle Springs Road in 2020 on the Green shift.

In introducing you to Nate, his wife Natasha was mentioned. They see one another at home and at work. She is a full-time paramedic on AMR Ambulances and when he’s pulling a part-time shift here and there they end up working and running calls together. “It’s fun. We work well together and have a mutual respect,” he said. “She’s very good at what she does.”

His stress relief time is spent with the kids and his wife at the kids’ sporting events. He loves all UT sports, the Knoxville Ice Bears (he’s worked their games as an EMS too) and he loves dirt track racing. For six years he was involved in fire and EMS at three dirt tracks – the old Atomic track in Lenoir City, 411 Speedway in Seymour and Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville. “And I really miss that,” he says.

An accident that has stayed with him, one that creates the stress and emotions, happened on Jan. 31, 2017, on I-640. A man lost control of his vehicle, crossed the median and hit a car head-on.

“I was the first one on the scene in my ambulance and all three were trapped in the cars,” he recalls. “KPD was there next and we all worked together. The two people in the car were elderly and everyone died.”

After a pause, he said: “…You don’t ever get used to it. You have to stay calm and do what you have to do. It’s not easy but our training prepares us for these things. But sometimes it’s hard to keep your emotions under control.”

Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future Our Town Hero stories at [email protected] or call him at 865-659-3562.

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