His given name is Daniel Shane Thomas. But he’s called “Homeschool” – not Daniel or Danny or Dan – just “Homeschool.”
“When he was 13, I walked into the headquarters and there was this dumpy kid standing in a corner all alone,” Capt. Will Steward says. “I asked him to come over here. I asked him where he went to school, and he said he was homeschooled. I told him right then – Homeschool is your new name around here.” It stuck.
And a mentoring and friendship bond was born between Homeschool and Steward that deepens to this day. “He’s been under my wing since that day we met,” Steward says.
“Around here” is at the Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad (KVERS) and since that day in 2015, it seems that Homeschool is always around the squad’s headquarters at Station 1, 512 N. Chilhowee Drive.
He is part of the squad’s cadet program and is a cadet captain. In fact, for the past three years the members of the squad as a whole have voted him the Cadet of the Year – high praise for such a young man.
Homeschool is not your typical 17-year-old. He does not play video games. He once won a PlayStation and gave it away. His TV watching is pretty much focused on the old “Emergency!” show and other shows about rescues, police and firefighters. He says “yes, sir” and “no, sir” and “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”
Homeschooled since the third grade, he has two older sisters who live in Missouri. His parents, Paullette and Terry, are an over-the-road cross-country truck-driving team. When his folks are on the road, he stays with an uncle, Dennis Verland.
But the rescue squad is his second home. “We’ve watched him grow from that dumpy kid to who he is now, and we’ve helped raise this young man,” Steward says. “He’s a really good kid. I wish I could take every kid and turn them into Homeschool. He’s a very unique young man, very smart and very mature. It’s almost scary.”
When you bring up the subject of recruiting today’s young people into the emergency-services field, you hear phrases like “that’s not happening today like it used to be” or “they don’t want to do this kind of work” or “they think this profession is below them” and “if they’re not in charge immediately they leave.” Then you meet Homeschool, the exception.
Here’s what one squad member says about Homeschool. “He’s the first to volunteer for anything, if it’s pulling a shift or sweeping the floors. He mentors the younger cadets and says he wants to spend the rest of his life in emergency response and rescue.”
He pulls a regular 24-hour shift every Sunday at Headquarters Station 1 – 7 a.m. Sunday to 7 a.m. Monday, with Steward. He goes on emergency calls but can’t drive the KVERS vehicles until he’s 21. “I’d pick Daniel to go on calls with me every time. He knows the tools we need and where they are. He’s earned his extrication certification, and he’s the only cadet we’ve ever had who can extricate on the scene of the accident or whatever it is,” Steward said.
In addition to his extrication skills, he’s also a “tender” on the squad’s rescue dive team. He helps the divers dress for the water, makes sure their dive suits are sealed and holds the safety rope from the boat or a bank to communicate with them by pulls on the rope. At accident scenes he helps with equipment, helps stabilize the vehicles and can extricate victims. Two months ago he was promoted to “shift quality trainee” status.
How did Homeschool get interested in rescue work?
“Well, my grandmother had a lot of medical problems – diabetes and lots of other things – and when I was young there were two paramedics from the Sevier County Ambulance Service who came to Seymour to help her,” he remembers. “I watched, and I could see their passion and care in helping her, and I said to myself that’s what I want to do.”
When he had just turned 13, he volunteered for the New Market Fire Department before joining the KVERS.
“I love the rescue and medical part of this a lot, and I don’t have much interest in being a firefighter,” he says. “But I do love it here, and Will has been a big part of that for me. He’s taught me most everything I know about rescue. Will is one of the greatest people I have ever met.”
Then he pivoted to the squad. “I immediately felt the brotherhood and the passion here, and I wanted to be part of this, and I think I will for the rest of my life.”
He graduates from high school in January 2020. His GPA today is 4.0. As we’re talking at Station 1, Homeschool mentions that he turns 18 on Aug. 8. At that moment the squad’s Deputy Chief John Whited comes out of his office, pauses and says: “Yep, then you’ll be mine and not Will’s.” When he turns 18 he’s no longer a cadet and can work regular shifts along with the other squad members. “I was kind of teasing him, but he will be working beyond that Sunday shift with Will,” Whited says. “He’s a fine young man.”
Not many 17-year-olds have already formed a limited liability corporation for a new business. Homeschool has. He and his mother will be partners in 911 Knoxville Crime Scene Decontamination Services LLC. He explains: “In homes or businesses when there is a shooting, a homicide or a suicide, there is biohazard material left behind that needs to be cleaned up, like blood, bodily fluids and sometimes brain matter. And these can cause problems for people who don’t know how to properly clean them up.”
The LLC is in place, and soon they will be buying the necessary equipment for an office to be located in the South Knoxville area. Once established, they will be hiring technicians to be trained in this field.
Homeschool is a cheerleader for young people – male and female – to join the rescue squad. “It’s one of the best ways to get experience in the rescue and medical fields with the people here. You learn things from them that will stay with you forever. Even for the military. It’s a great place to start and learn from them. You can go from here to a career and still come back and be a volunteer.”
Steward likens Homeschool to a sponge. “He soaks up things from everyone he comes in contact with, asks questions and he’s always listening. Always.”
And Whited says: “It’s going to be interesting to watch him in the next few years. Homeschool’s really a good one.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at (865) 659-3562.