No panic. No second thoughts. Just get him out safely. You can hear him asking questions and barking orders.
A pickup truck was on fire after hitting a guardrail and a tree. The driver was trapped by a seatbelt that would not release. Flames were spreading from the engine into the cab. Seconds mattered.
Knoxville Police patrol officer Nick Adams, 31, was the first officer to arrive at the junction of the I-640 West ramp onto I-40 West at around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 9. “I knew there was a guy inside but the windows were tinted and it was hard to see him,” Adams says now. “I tried opening the door but it was damaged and I tried using the door handle but I jerked it clean off the door and fell backwards.”
Adams is a big guy, 6-3, 210 pounds. He could see and feel the flames. He knew the clock was ticking. He got up off the ground and jumped into the pickup’s bed and started talking to the driver.
“That’s when I saw the flames coming under the window and the dashboard and luckily the wreck had knocked out his rear window,” Adams said. “I handed him a knife and told him to cut the seatbelt. It took him a minute or two and then I reached in and grabbed him and pulled him out.” Both jumped to the ground. The driver was not injured. Adams had cuts on his right knee. Seconds later flames engulfed the truck.
Here is a link to Adams’ body cam video of the incident.
This past Friday Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon singled Adams out for his heroics during her State of the City address at what will eventually be the new KPD headquarters on Broadway.
It was appropriate that the audience honored him with a standing ovation.
The driver was not charged and told officers he was forced off the road by another vehicle as he started up and around the ramp’s curve.
Seventy something days later, Adams thinks back on the accident.
“The whole thing lasted two or three minutes but it felt like a lot longer. I’ve thought about a lot of different what-if scenarios. I had to get a window open. I had to get him out. The idea that the truck could explode at any second crossed my mind. It also crossed my mind when I was in the truck bed that I was standing on top of the gas tank. I’m just very grateful about how it turned out and the guy’s OK.”
It’s a good bet that his KPD training and his military service together put the right officer in the right place at the right time. No panic.
Scott Erland, KPD’s public information officer, perhaps had the best description of what happened. “Officer Adams’ decisive and selfless actions completely changed the course of a situation that very well could have ended tragically. He voluntarily put himself in harm’s way to help a citizen in urgent need, and did so without hesitation when time was of the absolute essence. His actions were nothing short of heroic and reflect great credit upon himself and the men and women of the Knoxville Police Department.”
Adams and his older brother, Joe, were born in Nashville but moved with their family to Knoxville when he was 5. Today he and Joe are both KPD officers who graduated from the Police Academy in the same class.
Adams, the father of two, met wife Baylee when they were students at Grace Christian Academy and that high school romance turned into marriage. After graduating, he spent four years at the University of Tennessee on an ROTC scholarship and earned a degree in agriculture. “You can see what I did with that degree – not much,” he said.
Before his KPD work, he spent three years and seven months as a security supervisor at Methodist Memorial Hospital in Oak Ridge and was a platoon leader for almost five years for the 390th Engineer Co. in Chattanooga.
He came out of UT as an Army second lieutenant and has been in the Army Reserves for 8 years and 5 months. He is now a captain assigned to the 844th Engineers in Columbia, South Carolina, at Fort Jackson.
He was hired by KPD in October 2018 and today spends his shifts on patrol in West Knoxville.
Adams … cool and calm under pressure, a life saved, while risking his life. That’s a Hero!
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at email@example.com or call him at 865-659-3562.