For a reason that shall become clear, he’s known as “Halty.”
Halty’s given name is Riley Thomas Haltaaufderheide. No kidding. And no doubt you now understand his moniker. Unless you are family, German or fluent in German, it’s a good bet you can’t pronounce or spell his last name of 16 letters.
Today, we focus on Halty, a young man of 27, tall at 6-4, a dad to four daughters, Christine’s husband, a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan and a captain for Rural Metro Fire working at Station 28 on Old Maryville Pike. It’s Halty, the name that adorns the back of his fire jacket.
Not only is he a first responder here, he returned home three weeks ago from 34 days of fighting wildland forest fires in Oregon – the Elbow Creek Fire near Grants Pass and the massive Skyline Ridge Complex. The latter was a “complex” of 19 fires burning and caused by the same lightning storm. Halty is a certified wildland firefighter through the Tennessee Department of Forestry and Rural Metro.
Joining him in Oregon were two fellow Rural Metro pros – Capt. Brad Rettig and Firefighter Taylor Ross. “Rural Metro has a wildland fire team and asked for volunteers so I signed up,” Halty says. “I gained a whole lotta respect for those firefighters who do this for a career. Being on the fire lines is hard work – period. I gained a lot of knowledge about back fires, indirect attacks and digging fire lines, even burning off gravel roads to set up fire lines.
The mop-up is important. You have to use hand tools to dig up roots burning below the ground. Tough work.”
He says after two weeks he was asked to stay another two weeks into mid-August. He called his wife to get the OK. “She said yes, as long as I was home in time for our Sept. 17 trip to Disney World,” he said. They’re leaving this coming Friday.
Halty says if he’s asked to return to fight the fires out west, he’ll go. “It’s great experience and it really makes me a better all-around fire professional.”
Halty’s a native of Fond du Luc, Wisconsin, 45 miles north of Milwaukee in cheese country and some 700 miles north of Knoxville. His interest in firefighting came from his father, a long-time volunteer firefighter in Fond du Luc. That led Halty to volunteer for fire work as well and after high school to attend Fox Valley Technical College for a degree in fire protection. His brother Lucas is a firefighter in Wisconsin.
And how did Halty find his way to Knoxville? “I needed a job and was surfing websites for job postings and saw that Rural Metro was hiring here,” he recalls. “So, I contacted them, came down for an interview and was hired three months later.” He moved down and began work in September 2014.
When their now 1-year-old daughter was born, his parents moved here as well and are now Fountain City residents.
Halty has been at Station 28 for two years. He’s also spent time at Station 34 in Gibbs, Station 30 in Halls and at Forks of the River.
“I love it here at Rural Metro and I mean that. It’s my extended family,” he said. “The fellowship is great at work and away from the work. It’s always different and interesting from shift to shift and for me that’s the main draw.”
He still loves his Packers, but in seven years he’s acquired a true East Tennessee accent. “When I go back to Wisconsin, they really tease me about it,” he said. “But that’s OK. This is home now.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes – for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 865-659-3562.