Seymour’s fire chief: ‘Bulldog’ Linsenbigler

Tom KingOur Town Heroes

Our paths first crossed in April 2018. That’s happened three or four more times now. The first question that came to mind was: “How do you pronounce his last name?” Pronunciation: Lin-sen-big-ler … and it is Chief John “Bulldog” Linsenbigler.

He’s the heart and soul of the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department (SVFD), a man who lives and breathes for the department, its mission, its volunteers and the community.

He is a man with an array of talents and skills. If you ask him who he is, the first answer you may well hear is “a Christian.” Here are other answers:

  • Husband to wife Carol and father to two adult children
  • “Papa” to two grandkids
  • Fire chief of the Seymour Volunteer Fire Dept. (SVFD)
  • Executive administrator of the SVFD
  • SVF first responder
  • Fundraiser
  • Worked at Johnson Bible College (JBC) for 31 years as director of plant facilities and also as JBC fire chief for several years
  • Licensed plumber (31 years)
  • An expert at managing wastewater
  • A stand-up comedian
  • Firefighter
  • “Herder of cats (volunteers)” at SVFD, he says
  • EMT (emergency medical technician) for 10 years at Dollywood
  • He’s also delivered a baby on the job. “Nothing big, just all in a day’s work,” he says

Linsenbigler’s first emergency responder job was in 1982 as a reserve firefighter at Rural Metro while still working at JBC. He also had his own plumbing business (which he still has). He also worked on Rural Metro ambulances and was there until 1990.

John Linsenbigler visits with “Seymour” at the station. Seymour is owned by volunteer Dennis Bayne and had stopped in for a visit.

And he’s full of energy at 62. He loves his job. SVFD covers parts of Knox, Blount and Sevier counties. His cubbyhole office is at Headquarters Station 2 on Chapman Highway at Tipton Station Road.

Linsenbigler manages six stations – two in Knox, one in Blount and three in Sevier. SVFD’s coverage area is 118.6 square miles and includes 19,050 households. That number is about to grow. “I know from what’s being built we’ll have about 1,100 additional homes a year or so from now,” he said. The department also serves JBC, more than 70 churches, eight public schools, two private schools and more than 400 businesses.

“I love it that we all have the ability and the enjoyment we get out of helping people on their bad days. I tell people that our department is a functioning dysfunctional tri-county community fire department. Seymour is an unincorporated area and most everybody relies on our department to answer their questions,” he explains.

In case you wondered, this is the 52nd year SVFD has been serving its community.

This year-to-date the chief and his 84 volunteers have responded to 2,595 calls – 1,900 medical; 230 vehicle accidents; 275 fires; and 190 other calls (fire alarms at homes/businesses, calls terminated prior to arrival, lift assists for people who have fallen, and investigations).

SVFD is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit that lives off of donations and fundraising. They are now engaged in a $2.5 million capital campaign that so far has brought in $500,000. The department’s annual expenses are approximately $700,000. And only 12% of the households and businesses donate. He added that the average age of their fleet of 27 vehicles is 24 years and fire trucks are not cheap. He said each time a fire engine rolls out on a call, it costs $287.

The chief’s average work week is between 50 to 60 hours and is typically closer to 60 – not counting when he’s called out at night.

Linsenbigler is quick to laugh and joke with a subtle sense of humor. But it comes out, even when he answers questions.

Hardest part of the job? “I guess I would have to say just herding cats. Sometimes it gets chaotic. Keeping up with all the recordkeeping, the documentation. We’re just like a big city fire department. We have a lot of the same requirements. I’m always just trying to keep everything moving forward.”

He stays alert, listening to his radio and checking communications 24/7/365. He is forever making sure there’s someone available to answer the call for help. “We are a very busy volunteer agency, but I never want to have to go three alarm tones and no response to a call. Many of our volunteers make sacrifices to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

The majority of his volunteers live within the SVFD coverage area or very close by. But they also have volunteers from Karns, North Knoxville, Sequoyah Hills and the UT and Fort Sanders areas. Last week a young, new “Vol” dropped by – Jackson Major from Nashville. The UT student joined on October 21 and has started his training. The young man had already been on two calls and he relished telling the chief about them. It was pretty obvious the chief relished hearing it.

Almost forgot. Part of the family is involved at SVFD too.

John and Carol have been married for 43 years. “As they say, behind every good leader is a supporter. She is not an active member of the department, but she does actively support our mission in many ways.”

Carol also worked at Johnson Bible for 12 years as a registered nurse and today teaches fourth grade at Seymour Elementary. It has been a while since they’ve seen daughter Rebecca. She is an international travel teacher (history) now in Singapore and has taught in a number of other countries around the world. Son Adam is a minister and part-time communications director at Seymour Heights Christian Church, the family’s church. He is also the part-time chaplain for SVFD.

John’s late father, Clarence, was dean of men at JBC for 12 years and his mother was a nurse on campus. After leaving JBC, they became missionaries. “If I had not taken on this (SVFD), I’m certain Carol and I would be missionaries,” he said.

He wears his Christian fabric on his sleeves. “The only way I can get everything done is by having a strong Christian relationship with God. It’s about prayer, daily devotions and knowing He is much bigger than I and always has my back.”

The chief talks about and prays about the future of SVFD. “We ask all the time that those in our community and beyond financially support our capital campaign to help SVFD continue to meet the emergency needs of our community,” Linsenbigler says. “By joining your friends, families and neighbors in supporting SVFD, you’ll be doing more for Seymour VFD to help save lives, generation after generation, in our community.”

You can click here to learn more about the department. To support SVFD financially in a variety of ways you can click here.

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. If you have someone you think we should consider featuring, please email him at the link with his name or text him at 865-659-3562.


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