Remember “Emergency!” – the hit TV series from the 1970s? The show ran for seven seasons and featured fictional members of Squad 51 of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s newly created Paramedic Rescue Service. Each week, partners John Gage and Roy DeSoto put their lives on the line to save people from all sorts of mishaps.
This critically acclaimed show from Jack Webb’s production company is credited with popularizing the concepts of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and paramedics in American society, and even inspiring other states, cities and counties to expand their services.
Randolph Mantooth played Gage and Kevin Tighe played DeSoto. It was a popular show, and one of its biggest fans was a little boy living in Lenoir City watching on the family TV – young Chris McLain.
Today, that “kid” is 48 years old and is the clinical manager for AMR/Rural Metro in Knoxville. His career there has been intertwined with his first career in the U.S. Air Force, which ran from 1991 to 2011. “I had my career in the military, and now I’m having fun,” he says. “I have a passion for what I do here and I love it. Yep, watching that TV show at home as a little boy is how this all started and what led me to this career. I never missed that show either. And I’ve never regretted entering this field.”
As AMR/Rural Metro’s clinical manager for Tennessee and Kentucky, McLain oversees the training of the approximately 330 emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics who work on their fleet of 62 ambulances in Knox County and medical training for the Rural Metro firefighters. He manages a “faculty” of instructors who prepare the trainees to pass the certification tests before they can begin work.
Known as “Mac” around the office, he also coordinates the training for all AMR/Rural Metro emergency personnel in Blount, McMinn, Polk and Franklin counties and for Nashville and Collierville. He’s on the road a lot coordinating and training.
He’s also directing a new training partnership between AMR/Rural Metro and Pellissippi State Community College. It’s called the Pellissippi EMT Academy. Each class lasts six weeks, and the 23 students are paid to attend classes and then work for two years for AMR/Rural Metro. “We are doing this to combat the shortage of young people coming into this profession,” he says. “This shortage is going on across the country. We have one student who came from out of state to take these classes.”
After graduating from Lenoir City High School in 1989, trying college at Roane State Community College and Middle Tennessee State University, and working as a volunteer for the Lenoir City Fire Department, he joined the Air Force, retiring as a senior master sergeant in 2011 after 22 years. Upon retirement in 2011, he began working full-time at Rural Metro as a paramedic. He’s been with the company for 25 years, in both part-time and full-time capacities.
His life changed in 1994 when the Air Force transferred him to McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base with the 134th Air Refueling Wing close to home in Air Force Medical Services. Once here, when not working at McGhee Tyson, he was working part-time as a paramedic for Rural Metro. He also earned a B.S. in organizational business management at Tusculum College in 2001.
McLain has been recognized by several agencies for his contributions: Air Force Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) of the Quarter, Air Force Senior NCO of the Quarter, Red Cross American Hero of the Year in 2005, Region II EMS Director’s Paramedic of the Year, and Region II EMS Director’s President’s Award. He’s a nationally registered paramedic and a State of Tennessee critical care paramedic and instructor coordinator.
During his years at McGhee Tyson, he also was the EMT director for the Air National Guard for 17 years and directed all of the training for EMTs for the Air Force reserves and employees of the Department of Justice from across the country. They all came to Knoxville for their training.
The thing he emphasizes most in his classes is compassion for the injured person. “You have to make sure you have compassion, both for the patient and their family members if they are there. True compassion comes from the heart,” he says. “You can’t show them how much you know until they know how much you care.”
He gets out of his office once or twice a week to make “runs” on the ambulances to keep his skills sharp but also to evaluate the work of the AMR paramedics and EMTs.
When you ask what aspect of this profession is the hardest, McLain mirrors the thoughts of many others. “The death of children, especially those deaths that were preventable and were caused by negligence, like young kids left unattended in swimming pools. It can really get to you.”
His stress reliever is his red Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide. “I love to crank the music up loud and feel the wind,” he says. “There’s nothing like relaxing on the bike.”
But, with the stress and everything else, he loves his job. “You have to have a passion for this work. It’s definitely a calling more than anything. It’s as simple as that.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we should feature, email Tom King.