Rural Metro changes: Harnish moves to AMR; Devlin is ‘new’ chief

Tom KingOur Town Heroes

Rural Metro Fire Chief Jerry Harnish is now overseeing all Knox County operations at American Medical Response (AMR), parent company of Rural Metro Fire, while Jeff Devlin, a 34-year Rural Metro veteran, is fire department’s interim chief with expectations of being named fire chief soon.

Devlin, 53, for the past seven months has been the interim chief, working out of fire headquarters on Campbell Station Road. Harnish, technically, is still chief but says he spends almost 100% of his time at the AMR facility in the Hardin Valley Business Park.

Harnish is expecting an announcement soon about Devlin becoming the permanent chief.

Earlier this year the parent company moved Harnish, 66, to AMR ambulances to help solve issues the company has had in fulfilling its contractual obligations with Knox County dealing with ambulance response times. Harnish also is part of the team addressing a critical piece of this issue – the backups that occur at emergency departments at local hospitals.

“I am here to make sure our operations are running smoothly and to work from our end on the response times and to help solve the wait times at the ERs. So many people are now using the ERs for non-emergency illnesses and primary care needs that is slowing things down,” Harnish explained.

Devlin was promoted to assistant chief of operations in July 2019. In that job he managed all aspects of the fire department’s day-to-day operations as second-in-command – all emergency medical services, rescue, hazardous materials and fire suppression operations. He manages all 18 stations, supervises 200-plus employees, including the shift battalion chiefs who report directly to him.

Now, Battalion Chief Ken Tuggle is serving in Devlin’s old job as interim chief of operations.

Devlin earned a bachelor’s degree in fire administration from the University of Memphis in 2003 and a master’s in safety/emergency management from the University of Tennessee in 2009. He is a 2014 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and holds a 2015 Chief Fire Officer designation through the Center for Public Safety Excellence.

His wife is Dr. Joanne B. Devlin, associate director of the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center (The Body Farm) and a lecturer in the anthropology department. She is also a retired part-time Rural Metro firefighter. Their son, Liam, is a Webb School graduate. He played lacrosse there and now plays on UT’s lacrosse club team.

Jeff Devlin is very involved in the Farragut community. He coached for three years in the Farragut Youth Lacrosse League. For the past eight years he has served on the town of Farragut’s Social Services Committee. He is also on the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals and is a member of the town’s Municipal Planning Commission. The family lives in Farragut and Devlin is a graduate of Farragut High School.

Devlin also is a candidate for the District 1 (North) seat on the Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The election will be on Aug. 1.

Like many others, Harnish’s career in firefighting began as a volunteer while completing his undergraduate degree at Emory & Henry College in Virginia. During that time, he completed training and was certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT). After graduation in 1980, he joined Rural Metro full-time in Knox County.

He made captain in 1987 and began rising through the ranks. In 1989, he was promoted to district chief, supervising one shift on the county’s west end before transferring to Arizona for a four-month temporary assignment at Rural Metro’s national headquarters. The next year, he returned to Tennessee to command the newly formed District 3 until 1997 when he was again assigned to direct training and administration. He was promoted to chief in 2007.

Harnish graduated from the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program in 1998 and was promoted to division chief in 2002 and then to chief in 2007.

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. Call or text him at 865-659-3562.


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