‘Sweet’ Is Rural Metro’s ‘23 Firefighter of the Year

Tom KingHalls, Our Town Heroes

It’s time to sing the praises of the big guy they call “Sweet.” This soft-spoken fellow is Michael Neal Patrick, who was reared in the Lonsdale community on McPherson Street. And something that happened outside of a neighbor’s burning house some 25 years ago – just a few houses down from the Patrick home – is how and where this story begins.

Michael Patrick

He was 18 at the time and a member of the Rural Metro Fire Explorer Post. It is a day he will never forget. “It was in the middle of the night and our neighbor’s house caught fire and being an Explorer and having a little training, I ran down there to help,” he remembers.

The Knoxville Fire Department was there and had found and brought out the elderly lady who lived there. She was on the ground and unconscious and had a heart attack. “I started helping them doing CPR on her. She survived but two of her little grandkids were inside and didn’t. The fire was so bad they couldn’t get to them,” he said.

Patrick says he was already pretty sure he wanted to be a firefighter, but that “really sealed the deal for me. You never forget what it’s like to be part of something like that.”

After graduating from Fulton High School in May 1999, he joined Rural Metro. And that relationship continues today. In December 2023, Rural Metro Fire honored him as its 2023 Firefighter of the Year, the department’s most prestigious award. He is one of a number of Rural Metro professionals nominated for this award. He was nominated by Battalion Chief Brian Chesney and Rural Metro’s chiefs selected him from the field.

Patrick, now 42, spent 10 years as a firefighter/engineer. He then became a reserve firefighter working out of Station 30 in Halls, where he and his family now live. But that’s not even his “real” full-time fire job today. He’s the operational support chief for the Y-12 Fire Department in Oak Ridge, working under Chief Gary Arnold. Patrick manages day-to-day operations at Y-12 fire.

Patrick works Monday through Thursday at Y-12 and makes himself available on two other days for Rural Metro weekly. When he is called in, he becomes a paid reserve firefighter for Rural Metro. With sickness, vacations and off days, many weeks this big man, who stands 6-3, works around 64 hours a week with both departments.

And his boss, Chief Chesney, explains why he nominated Patrick. “When we need him the most, he’s there for us. Every time we need someone with his skillset to fill in, he steps up,” Chesney said. “His experience and rank as a crew leader and his knowledge of all of our equipment makes him invaluable. Sweet is hard working, determined and intelligent and he can literally do it all.”

Presenting the award to Patrick was Chief Jeff Devlin, Rural Metro’s assistant chief of operations. “Michael brings a lot to the table for us, being a chief at Y-12 and with his skills and overall experience. He’s incredibly dedicated to being a reserve with us and helping his community. We just don’t have people like him working for us. He’s a leader, helps us with training and many other aspects of the department. He’s one special professional and person.”

Sweet’s reaction to the honor was vintage Sweet. “I was not expecting this award. I was shocked and humbled by it when Chief Devlin presented it to me. This award is not about me. It’s about the men and women of Rural Metro who show up every day to protect our families, our homes and our communities. It’s who we all are.”

Y-12 or Rural Metro? Which job does Sweet prefer? No way will you pin him down on this. “I like both jobs, but they’re two different worlds. I tell people that we protect the people who protect the nation at Y-12 and at Rural Metro we’re protecting our community and its people.”

Patrick explains the Y-12 department has a staff of 100 to protect what is arguably one of the most sensitive and potentially hazardous sites in the U.S. Y-12 has three primary national security missions to protect the U.S. and its allies: maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, reduce global threats through non-proliferation and provide fuel for the U.S. Nuclear Navy.

When Patrick does retire, or if he ever retires, part of his legacy will be two of his sons – Brandon, 19, and Ethan, 15. Brandon is in his second year as a full-time firefighter at Rural Metro’s Station 34 in the Gibbs community and Ethan is a member of the Rural Metro Explorer Post and tells his dad he’ll be with Rural Metro one day soon.

“With both of them doing this work now I pay a lot more attention to the scanner at home these days,” he said.

He and wife Kimberly have a blended family. She has two sons of her own that Patrick adopted – Tyler and Bradly Pinion. In addition to Brandon and Ethan, they have a young daughter, Kaylynn, who is 8.

“Every Sunday,” he says, they attend Whitestone Church in Halls, and church is an important part of their lives, as it was in his formative years. “Mom (Phyllis) always made sure we were at church at Freedom Fellowship Church,” he said. “Every Sunday.”

Patrick earned an associate degree in fire science and firefighting from Walters State Community College. He is a certified fire and explosion investigator (CFEI) through the National Association of Fire Investigators and has a fire officer certification 4 from the state. He also graduated from the Alabama Fire College as an incident safety officer – fire suppression.

And what about his well-known nickname – Sweet? He says that happened during fire academy in 2000. He claims not to know its origin. But it stuck. So we asked Chief Chesney if he could explain it. “Yep,” he said. “If you know Sweet you know a man who is very very humble, very soft spoken and he’s just a sweet and caring person for everyone he meets. He never changes. He’s always the same – Sweet.”

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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