He’s packed a lot into his first 10 years with the Knoxville Fire Department (KFD). Master Firefighter Jordan Adcox, a fit 31-year-old Fountain City boy, has worked on three major disasters – the latest being the killer tornadoes that hit Putnam County earlier this month and claimed 19 lives.
It’s a scene he will never forget. “It’s what I expected to see because we were briefed before we left,” he said. “We were told it looked like a war zone and it did. It’s a reminder that you can’t mess with Mother Nature.”
He shook his head when he talked about one family. “This couple was in bed sleeping and the tornado picked up their house with them still in bed and dropped it across the street from where their house was – with them still in the bed. And they survived. Think about that.”
Adcox, who drives the Rescue 1 Heavy Rescue engine out of Headquarters Station 1 downtown, had high praise for the first responders who arrived not long after the 2 a.m. tornado touched down. “Those guys in Putnam County had it the toughest. They saw some really bad stuff before the rest of us got there. They did some really great work and they did it all in a hurry,” he said. “And it’s likely that some of them knew some of these victims or their families or were friends of these people. That makes it real tough.”
KFD Asst. Chief Robby Copas led the team which included Captains Matt Beavers, Hugh Laxton, Randy Whaley and Daniel French; Senior Firefighters A.J. Spoone, Chad Pickens and Chris Stallings; and Master Firefighters Brad Elliot, Justin Bailey and Chris Hinkle, along with Adcox.
Prior to this, Adcox fought the Gatlinburg fires in November 2016 and spent 10 days in Houston after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast in August 2017. Of the three disasters, he rates the Gatlinburg fires as the hardest.
“When we got to Gatlinburg in the afternoon it was not that bad. We were checking commercial buildings and things out at the Sugarland Visitors Center; when (we) drove back down into Gatlinburg around 6 p.m., everything changed and everything we could see was on fire,” he said. “It’s what we call a changing environment. It was very intense, and we had a lot more going on at one time than I’d ever seen. The volume of the fire was so overwhelming and the number of buildings on fire and people looking for bodies … looking for remains …” and his voice went silent.
He and his fellow KPD first responders worked through that first night until 7:30 a.m., (then) rested and returned for five days of searching for victims, putting out hot spots and marking buildings and homes that had been cleared.
In Houston, after Harvey struck, he was part of a team that included Team Leader Copas, Beavers, Laxton and Master Firefighter Mark Lane. Their work was humanitarian. “We were rescuing people from their homes in boats and rafts, delivering medications and food and water to people, and the heat and humidity and bugs made it really hard work,” Adcox remembers.
How does he get away from this work? Adcox’s hobby is flying. He’s a pilot and a member of the Knoxville Flyers Club out of Island Home Airport. “It’s so relaxing to fly, and I love to take people flying,” he said.
Fires. Floods. Tornadoes. Those are bad, but when he looks back a few years he remembers a South Knoxville apartment fire as the one that hurts the most. “That one really sticks with me and still hurts. We rescued a mother and young child. The paramedics worked on them both and the mother survived, but the kid, maybe 3, didn’t make it,” Adcox says. “That sticks with you. You remember stuff like that … a little kid.”
Editor’s Note: This weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlights Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. If you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at 865-659-3562.