Ethan Adkins was the second responder of the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department to arrive at the scene of a head-on wreck in October 2018 in Sevier County. The driver of one vehicle was an 18-year-old woman. Her car caught on fire. There was nothing that could be done to save her.
“It hit me hard, really hard, and put in perspective for me how fragile life can be. She was really young,” Adkins says in hushed tones. “But it’s what we do.”
It became harder when he found out later that he knew the young woman. And Adkins was only 21 then.
He’s 22 today and in his third year with the Seymour department as an emergency first responder and firefighter. Adkins was not on a lake or partying on July Fourth. He spent six hours last Thursday helping fight a house fire in Sevier County with his fellow Seymour firefighters.
He is the epitome of what emergency-services agencies (police, fire and rescue squads) and volunteer departments most everywhere need – young people with a passion for service who understand what that means to a community.
“He came to us as a typical young person who has a passion for helping people, and we have helped him direct that passion to be a first responder and firefighter,” Seymour Chief John Lisenbigler says. “He has a great heart to serve, and he’s growing up with us here. I think he’ll have a great career, whatever he does.”
Adkins’ career goal is to become an RN, and he wants to be an emergency-room, ICU or critical-care nurse. In nine months he will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from South College.
He is a 2015 graduate of Knoxville Catholic High School and a big and well-built young man who played football through his junior year. “I got kinda tired of football and wanted to be just a regular student my senior year and sit in the stands like everybody else and cheer, and I really enjoyed it,” he recalls.
Adkins also is a singer and was in the Catholic High choir that performed in Scotland. He’s a bass singer and was talented enough to earn a fine arts scholarship to Maryville College. He was a member of the school’s concert choir and part of a small singing ensemble as well. Maryville College dropped the program he was in, and he left the school after a year and a half and then enrolled at South College.
Nursing is in his DNA. His mother, Robin, is a longtime RN, and Adkins says it was her influence that led him to nursing school. “She told me that there are a lot of things you can do with a nursing degree,” he added.
In 2014 he joined Knox County Rescue (then called Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad) and began learning about the world of emergency response from a lot of different angles and people. A fellow volunteer, Ryan Spencer, told him about the Seymour department and that led him to Lisenbigler’s office. Spencer is a captain at the Seymour department. And in 2016 Adkins gained more experience as an ER tech at Blount Memorial Hospital’s emergency room.
“I’ve been interested in nursing and emergency work for a long time,” he says. “I’ve come to really love it. Right now studying and doing my clinicals is a full-time job, and when I’m not studying or in class I’m working here.”
He lives at Seymour’s Station 6 in Kimberlin Heights but works out of the Stations 1 and 2.
And … and … Adkins has another job for the Seymour department, too.
“Sparky” is the department’s mascot, and for the past two years Adkins has been Sparky, visiting festivals, farmer’s markets, schools and being at fundraisers for the department. “It does get hot inside Sparky’s clothes,” he says. “But hey, I volunteered for it.”
“Sparky” is not his first mascot job either. For three years, beginning when he was 13, he was the Knoxville Ice Bears mascot “Chilly,” and for one season he was “Slugger,” the mascot for the Tennessee Smokies professional baseball team.
But around Seymour fire, he’s much more than a mascot!
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 need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at (865) 659-3562.
King has served at newspapers in Tennessee, Texas and California throughout his adult life. He started writing for KnoxTNToday in 2017.