Faith. Family. Firefighting. Football.
These words define the life of Knoxville Fire Department Asst. Chief Danny Beeler, a true Our Town Hero whose life has been one of service to the city, his religion, his family and football.
“I’d never thought about my life like this with these four Fs, but yes, it’s true. I’m a Christian first and my faith weaves its way through my life and leads my life whatever I’m doing. My faith is my core value. The family, my fire department life, and football are my passions,” Beeler said.
And seven months from now one passion will end – his almost 33 years with the KFD. He is retiring Dec. 31, 2020. He almost choked up talking about it. “I try not to think about it. I will miss the people. It’s been part of my entire life. Being at the fire halls. I really don’t know..,” he said, his voice trailing off.
Beeler, 62, is a third-generation KFD member. Great uncle Capt. Worley Sharp died of a heart attack while returning from a fire in the 1960s. He also was the KFD barber in the old fire headquarters on Commerce Street. Beeler’s father was Asst. Chief Lynn Beeler, who worked at KFD for 33 years. “I was born into and loved it back then and love it now,” he said.
His decision to follow in Dad’s footsteps was easy. “It gets into your heart and I grew up seeing the pride my Dad had for his work. Dad used to come to the schools and put on programs with his uniform and the engines and it captivated me,” Beeler said. “It was cool. All my friends knew Dad.”
Another “F” in his life story is Fulton High School. Beeler is a Lincoln Park product through and through. Before Fulton he was at Lincoln Park Elementary School and Christenberry Middle. He grew up on Cedar Avenue with his parents and his sister.
Now, let’s break down the four Fs:
- Faith: He is an ordained deacon at The Church at Sterchi Hills but not serving actively now. He grew up at North Knoxville Baptist Church.
- Family: Wife Jayme is the manager of the Highland Memorial Funeral Home & Cemetery. He is the father of three daughters – Leigha, Lori and Leslie – plus five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
- Firefighter: Is the Asst. Chief /Fire Marshal at KFD. He began his career in September 1988 at the old Station 3 fire hall behind old Knoxville High School.
- Football: First, he was a high school tight end at Fulton and played collegiately at the University of North Alabama. He’s been a TSSAA high school football official and referee for 32 years and today is in his eighth year as supervisor of officials for a large swath of East Tennessee. That’s 40 years of high school football. He has been the SEC’s play clock official at all University of Tennessee home football games since 1992. He began this pressure-packed job under Phillip Fulmer and has held it through the tenures of Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones and now Jeremy Pruitt.
His schedule is packed in the fall. Monday through Friday he’s in his office at the City-County Building or investigating suspicious fires for arson. He will be at high school football games on Thursday and Friday nights and sometimes on Saturday when the Vols are not playing.
He’s had seven knee surgeries, and a surprisingly few six of them have come from his firefighting career.
On Monday, May 9, 1994, KPD firefighters were working to knock down a wildland fire on Sharps Ridge. Beeler and a hose got tangled up on top of a fire truck. He took a hard fall – fractured skull, blood and spinal fluid coming from his ears, convulsions, a separated shoulder, broken wrist, an injured knee and three broken ribs. He spent some time at St. Mary’s Medical Center. He still has no memory of the accident or anything else for the following two months.
Eventually, he left firefighting and joined the arson investigative unit in 2004. In 2006 he earned a bachelor’s degree in fire administration from the University of Memphis and also has a degree from Columbia Southern University in occupational safety and health.
Focusing on his arson investigative job, he and his staff of five are also certified police officers. They carry weapons and have arrest powers. “Investigating arson crimes can be very dangerous, and you never know what will happen,” he explained. “Most of the arson crimes are residential where someone is trying to collect insurance, and we also see a lot of commercial arson, especially when vacant buildings burn.”
Back to this life in retirement issue. What are his plans? “We’re talking about buying a motor home and traveling,” he said. “Jayme makes unique pieces of jewelry – glass beads, necklaces, bracelets, bottle stoppers and even letter openers. We’ll go to craft fairs and festivals and probably set up a booth here and there.” Their plan is to leave after Christmas and come home in August.
But not much traveling in the fall. There’s football then, you know.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. If you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional to feature, email Tom King or call him at 865-659-3562.