He works a full-time job, has a wife and two busy boys who love football and basketball; he coaches their teams in both sports. In 2018 he logged 1,250-plus hours as a volunteer for a local nonprofit organization. Do the math. That’s an average of nearly 25 hours a week of service – volunteer service.
And 2018 was his 14th consecutive year of volunteering a minimum of 1,000 hours.
He is one of the poster boys – er, men – for volunteer service and all that it means. His name is Dustin Bolen. He’s 31, on the quiet side, and it’s obvious he loves his life. He has worked for the West Knox Utility District for 10 years and today is a backflow coordinator.
As a volunteer, Bolen is in his 15th year with the Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad (KVERS). He’s on call 24/7. He’s one of the squad’s three captains and also is a safety officer. “I oversee the big incidents and any kind of rescue,” he says. He covers all of West Knox County and South Knox County. But for water rescues or recoveries, he’s everywhere.
“I have always wanted to help people, to make someone’s day better,” says Bolen. “I have a passion for this, to be able to help save someone’s life. When we show up, usually someone is in dire need of help, and I’ve always wanted to be there to help.”
His exposure to emergency work began with a neighbor in the Bluegrass area where he was reared. Doug Conard, a now-retired arson investigator for the Knoxville Fire Department, was the neighbor, and Bolen went with him to a lot of fires. As a junior at Farragut High School, he joined the rescue squad and began his training. After graduating from Farragut in 2006, he became a shift qualified member for 11 years, working on the rescue trucks.
The squad promoted him to lieutenant four years ago, and last year he became a captain. He is certified in vehicle extraction rescue, as a first responder, is HazMat (hazardous materials) certified, swift water rescue certified and is a boat operator. KVERS is the primary rescue team for people missing in the water, and Bolen drives the rescue boat and tends the divers. The squad also is the primary rescue for all vehicle accidents in Knox County. They answer every vehicle accident.
Some of his emergency calls come during his Monday-Friday working hours, and it’s a credit to West Knox Utility that it is able to accommodate his rescue-squad responsibilities. “They are flexible and work with me, as long as I get my work done.”
Almost forgot this – he’s also a volunteer firefighter for the Karns Fire Department.
“Captain Bolen is a tenacious volunteer and is always ready to serve his community,” says KVERS Deputy Chief John Whited. “Captain Bolen embodies the true spirit of volunteerism.”
This life is not without its stress and rewards, either. He recalls a car accident a few years ago. “The car was upside down and a man was trapped inside, hanging upside down, with serious bleeding issues, and we had very limited time to free him,” he says. “We had to cut the doors off the car, and I crawled in and had to push the dashboard out of the way and cut his seatbelt to free him. He made it. Turns out he was a friend of a friend, and two years ago at a wedding he walked up to me and thanked me for saving his life. That was special. It meant a lot to me.”
Like many emergency first responders, he has worked accident scenes with fatalities, sometimes multiple fatalities. How does he handle that? “I was there and I did everything I could do … we all do everything we can, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” he says.
Wife Jordan is working to become a certified nursing assistant and works at Prosperity Pointe Assisted Living. Their sons are Chase, 13, a student at Farragut Middle School, and Hunter, 11, who attends Farragut Intermediate. “The boys love what I do and think it’s pretty special, and my wife is very, very supportive,” he says.
His sons play football and basketball in the Farragut Youth leagues. During basketball season, which is now, he runs practice two nights a week with games on Saturday. Football in the fall is a Monday-through-Saturday commitment with practices and games.
“Yep, and before you ask, no, I don’t sleep much,” he offers. “I’ve always got the squad’s pager with me.”
He works. He volunteers. He coaches. Any hobbies?
“This is my hobby, working for the rescue squad,” Bolen says.
Look for Our Town Heroes each Monday at Knox TN Today. Nominate somebody you know for a future story by emailing Tom King at firstname.lastname@example.org.