There were two loud standing ovations yesterday at the Rotary Club of Farragut’s meeting at Fox Den Country Club. One was for Knoxville Fire Department Asst. Chief Robert Roche and the other for Knox County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeff Monroe. Each of the public servants was presented with the club’s prestigious 2019 Service Above Self Award. The annual award recognizes and honors first responders in our community who go above and beyond in their respective fields.
Both were nominated by their agencies, along with numerous nominees from other emergency-service organizations in Knox County. And both have been featured in KnoxTNToday’s ongoing series of stories about “Our Town Heroes.”
Roche is an assistant chief at the Headquarters Station 1, and he is responsible for downtown Knoxville, the University of Tennessee campus and South Knoxville. KFD Capt. D.J. Corcoran reviewed the reasons for us that Roche was honored. An alarm came in at 1:47 p.m. Dec. 14 about a fire at the Morningside Hill Apartments, 2060 Dandridge Ave. Dispatched to the fire were Engines 1 and 6. One engine was at the University of Tennessee and the other not close to the apartments. So Roche, in his SUV, was the first firefighter to arrive. He was the first to enter the building and in doing so saved a woman’s life.
As Corcoran explained: Roche was already out in his vehicle when the call came in, and he was the first on the scene. He could see the black smoke and flames. Roche saw a woman in her kitchen, trapped and in a wheelchair. He yelled at her to stay there, but she didn’t, opening a door to the hall and falling into the smoked-filled hallway. Roche, who didn’t have time to get his breathing apparatus and equipment, went in on his hands and knees … and came back out on his hands and knees with the woman on his back.
“I kinda rolled her over and grabbed her arms and slid her onto my back and started crawling to where I thought the door was and made it,” he said. ‘We got her outside, got some oxygen to her and the ambulance took her (to UT Medical Center).”
“I appreciate this award, truly, but we have a lot of guys and paramedics who save lives every day,” he said. “You can go a whole career and never deal with anything like this.”
(Here is a link to KnoxTNToday’s recent story about Roche.)
Monroe was honored for preventing a 75-year-old Knoxville woman from losing her life savings of nearly $20,000 to a sweepstakes scam artist in March 2018. KCSO Capt. Kevin Holbert described what Monroe did: It happened on March 6, 2018, when a call from the 911 dispatcher said a robbery was in progress at the home of an elderly woman. Monroe, a 16-year KCSO veteran, responded. There was no robbery, and ultimately Monroe found that three women were at the house. One was the victim’s daughter, who had no knowledge of what was going on.
“I sensed that something was wrong the longer I was there. When I started asking questions I knew things were not what they seemed,” Monroe said. “The victim’s daughter had no idea who the third woman was.”
Turns out the third woman was from out of state, and her actions, body language and answers to questions made him very suspicious. The victim at first said nothing was going on. It turned out that she’d had more than $19,000 taken from her.
Monroe then got the consent to search a number of items, including a portfolio, where he found $19,100 in cash. The information Monroe initially gathered was critical in obtaining search warrants for the portfolio and the woman’s cell phone. He eventually learned that the woman was an alleged co-conspirator in a sweepstakes-fraud scheme, being run by others out of state. She and others had convinced the elderly victim that she had won a sweepstakes but needed to prepay certain expenses.
As the investigation continued, the woman was linked to the people in other states, leading to federal charges being placed against the woman. “It’s hard to catch these people. I just felt like I had to do everything I could do to see that it got prosecuted,” Monroe said.
His actions in this case were part of what led to Monroe also being honored as KCSO’s 2018 Officer of the Year.
(You can click on this link to read KnoxTNToday’s story on Monroe.)
If you’re interested in exploring membership in Farragut Rotary, drop me an email or call me at (865) 659-3562. We meet at 12:15 p.m. each Wednesday at Fox Den Country Club. Join us as a guest and see how you like Rotary!
Tom King has served at newspapers in Tennessee, Texas and California throughout his adult life, working his way up from sportswriter to city editor to managing editor to editor – the final position at two separate Scripps newspapers, in El Paso and in Redding, Calif. He tried to retire, but he couldn’t resist the call of community journalism, so he started writing for KnoxTNToday in 2017.