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Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Retired Chattanooga Fire Chief Joe Knowles poses for a portrait in his home Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Red Bank, Tenn. Knowles was one of three city fire chiefs who helped to launch the department from simply extinguishing fires into an era of managing hazmat spills, cave ins, rescues, and more.

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First Chattanooga Fire Department hall of fame inductees led department from water, hoses to state-of-the-art firefighting

CHATTANOOGA FIRE DEPARTMENT TIMELINE

1871: Formation of first city fire department, post Civil War, with Harry Wilcox acting as chief

1876: First fire engine (horse drawn) purchased for $6,000

1882: Last year department is all-volunteer

1885: Paid departments consisted of two companies; volunteer companies consisted of three

1886: Chief Charles Whiteside, a wealthy man, financed installation of the Gamewell System of Fire Alarm Telegraph and call boxes to alert fire companies. Fire hydrants in city total 97

1887: The first Chattanooga firefighters to lose their lives in the line of duty, firemen Henry Iler and W.M. Peak, perish in the “Bee Hive” fire at Fourth and Market streets

1894: On Jan. 1, Thomas A. Mulligan becomes first chief to have risen through the ranks

1904: Fire Department, Police Department operate under single city committee for first time

1910: On May 7, the Hamilton County Courthouse loses its second floor and roof to fire. The loss is estimated at $85,000 but many irreplaceable county records survive

1911: First purchase of a motorized fire engine

1913: Second motorized fire engine purchased

1916: City auditorium burns

1916: Horse-drawn fire engine era in city comes to end

1916: First motorized aerial truck purchased

1917: Last steamer engine replaced with gas powered vehicle

1929: Chief William Toomey, assistant chief Amos Teppenpaw and Lt. Lucious Miller become first Chattanooga firefighters sent to fire training school in Chicago. Depression Era firefighter salary of $160 per month cut to $128

1933: New command structure turns all fire departments into police offices, fire captains also made police captains

1934: Training tower constructed for Chattanooga Fire Department at Kirby and Orchard Knob

1937: Pay and work schedules become topic of discussion. Firemen receiving full pay get one day off per month without pay

1939: Firemen get two days off with pay per month as long as they take the day scheduled

1941: Firemen get one day off per week as long as no other members of the company were off

1942: On Feb. 7, five people die in the Southern Hotel fire on Market Street. One man rescued by then-Lt. Leonard McCormick and then-fireman Harry Jett, who dropped a rope to him after he jumped from a window and became trapped by flames

1943: Dec. 19, Bijou Theater gutted by fire that was battled by more than 200 firefighters

1949: Firemen get one day off a week and can accumulate days thanks to new state law. New work schedule for 24 hours on duty followed by 24 hours off duty established

1949: Capt. William E. Blair is killed when his B-29 military aircraft crashed on Missionary Ridge, near the American Legion in East Ridge that is named for him. After ordering his crew to bail out, Blair guided his aircraft away from congested areas, homes and a nearby school before crashing it

1963: Kirby and Orchard Knob tower razed, new training tower opened on West Ninth in the Golden Gateway area

1972: Fire Chief Robert Ray Gouldy retires after serving as chief since 1946, longest serving chief

1973: Delta Airlines DC-9 crashes in November

1973: CFD begins ambulance service on July 1 headed by first Chief of the Ambulance Division Joe Jenkins

1974: Chief Harry Jett reorganizes administrative levels of CFD, increasing efficiency with existing manpower

1976: Joe Knowles becomes chief, overseeing another period of growth, improvements in equipment and training, additional stations in Tiftonia, East Brainerd and on Dayton Boulevard

1979: CFD’s EMS division has 12 paramedics and department gets its own radio frequency

1981: 911 system completed

1983: First female firefighter, Gail Moore, hired March 25

1985: “Platoon” shifts created after federal law changes work hours from 240 to 212 per work period

1988: Annual physical ability tests begin as part of wellness program

1989: Station 1 crews become first hazmat team

1992: CFD’s EMS department turned over to newly-formed Hamilton County EMS division

1995: First fire truck purchased capable of delivering foam to fight petroleum-based fires

1997: All CFD apparatus equipped with automatic external defibrillators, all personnel receive medical first-responder training

1999: Began implementing “Quint” concept with arrival of first quint truck

2000: Training improvements begin that lead to CFD’s facilities becoming a regional testing center

2006: First fire boat purchased, 23 firefighters trained to work on the vessel

2006: Urban Search and Rescue team formed with 70 members receiving specialized training

2014: New Station 9 replaces former 1927-era station at 37th Street and 6th Avenue, the last CFD station with a fire pole

2016: CFD rolls out Quick-Response Vehicles to respond to medical calls in place of fire vehicles, staffed with firefighters with EMT or EMT advanced training

Source: Chattanooga Fire Department

Fire chiefs

Harry Wilcox: 1871-1880

Harry McQuade: 1880-1882

Billie Freadman: 1882-1886

Charles Whiteside: 1886-1890

H.S. “Buck” Martin: 1890-1893

Thomas Mulligan: 1894-1898

Tom Wilcox: 1898-1899

H.A. McQuade: 1899-1906

W.M. Toomey: 1906-1930

Robert Robert Jones: 1930-1941

Earl Ellis Coulter: 1941-1946

Robert Ray Gouldy Sr.: 1946-1972

W.H. “Harry” Jett: 1972-1976

Joe H. Knowles: 1976-1984

A.O. Powell: 1984-1985

Jerry W. Evans: 1985-1997

Jim Coppinger: 1997-2005

Wendell Rowe: 2005-2009

Randall Parker: 2009-2013

Lamar Flint: 2013-2015

Chris Adams: July 23, 2015, to present

Source: Chattanooga Fire Department

 

 

The roles and accomplishments of three former fire chiefs who became the first inductees into the Chattanooga Fire Department's Hall of Fame earlier this year highlight the ever-changing history of firefighting in the Scenic City.

The chiefs — the late W.H. "Harry" Jett, Joe Knowles and now-Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger — were honored for taking the fire department from a simple "put wet stuff on red stuff" methodology to being prepared for car wrecks, hazardous materials spills, cave-ins, backcountry and water rescue — the worst nature and man can devise.

The Chattanooga Fire Department harks back to the Civil War, when firefighting techniques were limited to literally throwing water on fire.

As Chattanooga leaders in 1865 reorganized the city's government, including taking over fire protection from occupying military forces, they formed an all-volunteer department of 105 men.

From then till now, the focus of growth and improvement of the city's fire protection — and fire protection the world over — revolved around manpower, equipment, water supply and speed.

The department started out with one donated engine, a few feet of hose and fire hydrants on a few corners around downtown, according to historical accounts of the Chattanooga Fire Department History Book Committee organized in the early 1970s.

Today, more than 400 firefighters serving at 19 stations protect about 150 square miles in a city of more than 170,000 people.

The equipment is state-of-the-art almost across the board, tailored over decades to meet the demands of the city's terrain, infrastructure and industry.

But it didn't get that way by chance.

***

Jett had been a firefighter since 1936, almost his entire adult life.

He worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, served in World War II and spent his early firefighting career at Station No. 1.

When he returned from military service, he went back to his beloved fire department.

"He really loved these guys [firefighters] and just thought the world of them," said his son, Steve Jett. His father was promoted to chief in 1972, leading the department until his retirement in 1976.

Steve Jett's earliest memories are of his father in action. The firefighter's routine even invaded Jett's slumber when he was off duty.

"He could be at home asleep and if a phone rang in the night, he would roll over and reach for his boots," Steve Jett said with a chuckle. "It was like a fire alarm. He would reach for boots that weren't there."

As a youngster, Steve Jett saw firsthand the frightening scenes and danger his father sometimes faced.

One time, in 1949, a military plane crashed on Missionary Ridge, killing B-25 pilot Capt. William E. Blair.

"We lived over on 13th Street in Highland Park, and I remember looking up and seeing parachutes," Steve Jett said. "The pilot kept it in the air and kept it from crashing into Highland Park or Ridgedale."

Blair had ordered his crew to bail out, then he steered the plane clear of homes, a school and congested areas before crashing on the ridge.

"I remember going up there with my dad, and all I can remember is all the smoke and debris," Steve Jett said of what the scene looked like.

Then in 1951, he saw a newspaper article and photograph showing his father being carried out of the downtown Sears Roebuck fire, one of several firefighters hospitalized after that blaze for smoke inhalation.

But, "to me, the most significant thing that went on was annexation," Steve Jett said of the challenges facing the department during his father's career in the 1960s and 1970s. "That's when annexation was in full bloom. [The city] annexed parts of East Brainerd and Hixson and places like that."

During those years, Chattanooga's population and geographic size increased and new stations were added in the Highway 58 area, on Lee Highway, and in Brainerd and Hixson.

In 1973, the fire department took over the ambulance service from private operations, a move that also became a major part of successor Joe Knowles' career. Jett also worked to replace old stations and relocated some facilities forced to move by the construction of U.S. Highway 27 through downtown as the city continued to grow.

"The whole life of a firefighter is a life for which he must fully prepare and continually reinforce," Jett wrote in a letter to then-Chattanooga Commissioner Gene Roberts about his beloved department.

Jett died in February 2007, a month short of his 96th birthday.

***

Knowles started out in 1952 as a 19-year-old member of Chattanooga's police department, but it wasn't long before he transferred to the fire department, eventually becoming fire chief in 1976. As a firefighter, trainer and leader through the 1960s and 1970s, he saw the department grow into its modern form.

He spent much of his life as a trainer and trainee, attending 32 schools during his career. For more than nine years, he taught at the state fire school in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where he learned more about hazardous materials, radioactive materials and radiological monitoring.

In the 1970s, he mounted an effort to increase the amount of training firefighters receive, and he sought to ready the general public to help one another. One new life-saving technique he taught was cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.

"We eventually trained every fire company in rescue procedures and equipped every firetruck with what they called a 'red box' at the time," he said.

The "red box" held resuscitation equipment a trained firefighter could use to try to keep someone from dying.

"Every class I had when I was teaching in the state fire school, I taught everybody in there how to give resuscitation. I made it part of my class," he said.

Also, the Chattanooga City Commission approved the purchase of a truck equipped with safety equipment and fire extinguishers so Knowles could travel the city training staff at nursing homes and health care facilities on fire safety and lifesaving techniques in the early 1970s.

But the skills he was teaching were known only by a few back then.

"One time I was over at Memorial [Hospital] — I had about 20 in a class I was teaching on resuscitation — I said, 'I feel funny with you all knowing as much as you do and me teaching,'" Knowles recollected. "They said, 'Yeah, but you've got a good technique that we want to learn.'"

They were good students.

And one of them would factor largely in Knowles' life.

***

Gray skies loomed over Cherokee Boulevard as a cold rain fell on the morning of Nov. 10, 1983.

Memorial Hospital nurse Saundra Lloyd was driving home from her shift at the hospital.

As Lloyd headed north on Cherokee Boulevard, a man in an oncoming Ford LTD lost control on the slippery pavement and spun into her path.

Their eyes met for an instant before the two cars violently slammed together.

Lloyd, bruised and battered, was pulled from her Oldsmobile Cutlass by bystanders.

She asked about the driver of the other car.

"He's dead," they told her. "There's nothing you can do for him."

Lloyd scrambled for her first aid kit, made her way to the other car and found a man slumped over the steering wheel. She needed to get him off the wheel, quickly.

"When I got to him, he wasn't breathing," Lloyd said in a 1983 hospital memo account. "I cupped his jaw the best I could to open his breathing passage a tiny bit. That's all I could do."

That's all it would take to keep the man alive, a man she thought she didn't know.

But the man was Knowles, who had taught Lloyd in the rescue squad 10 years before.

"It all kind of got started with Chief Knowles when they tried to get the fire department ambulances division going," Lloyd told the Chattanooga Times in the months after the crash.

"The Chattanooga Fire Department went out with station wagons and vans and said, 'We won't let our people put up with this any more,'" Lloyd said. "And I said, 'Well, if the fire department can do that, the least I can do is be prepared to help them on the scene until the fire department gets there.'

"And my family and I began taking first aid, CPR and everything. One thing led to another," she said. Lloyd said the training that helped her save her mentor's life led her to an emergency medical technician certificate and a degree as a registered nurse.

Knowles, who was chief until 1984, can only shake his head at his luck on a day he has never been able to recall.

***

Chiefs, as they come along, build on what their predecessors accomplished, said Coppinger, the department's 17th chief.

"It really is a team effort. Too often, when you're at the top you get a lot of credit for what others do," Coppinger said. "You have to have a staff that buys in to what you want to accomplish."

During Coppinger's tenure as chief from 1997-2005, stations were consolidated to make the most of capabilities. The new Main Street Station 1, opened in 2000, is an example of combining three stations. Also, the department was restructured so department heads reported directly to the mayor rather than the mayor's safety director. The arrangement allowed the department to have more direct control of its budget.

An expansion of "squad" trucks means the department today has highly specialized firetrucks outfitted with equipment for extricating car crash victims, and for urban search and rescue missions involving confined spaces, high-angle rope rescues, collapses and other extrication situations. Squad trucks also carry gear for dealing with hazardous materials. The expansion was a response to the consolidation that put more firefighters in fewer stations.

Squads were tapped for responding to all medical emergencies as well as fires and rescues, with personnel trained as EMTs and paramedics to backup ambulance crews. The first squad in Chattanooga was created in 1986 under Chief Jerry Evans and it carried the Jaws of Life, a crew trained in CPR and certified in fighting fires involving hazardous materials. They used an old van and an old sport utility vehicle in the early days.

Later, trucks and other fire vehicles were equipped with automatic external defibrillators for reviving heart attack victims.

Coppinger, hired by Knowles in 1977, is also credited with implementing the "quint concept" firetrucks now a standard for many stations in the Chattanooga Fire Department.

The quint has sparked controversy in some cities for a variety of reasons, usually having to do with overspecialization of the equipment or concerns over potential reductions in the number of firefighter jobs for some departments. But the quint puts a lot of firefighting ability into one custom-made vehicle, essentially making it sort of a firetruck-and-a-half, Coppinger said.

Coppinger said others, including firetruck manufacturer Central States Fire, share credit for developing the apparatus with a short wheelbase to make it more maneuverable on Chattanooga's narrow city streets. It was even more maneuverable than some of the conventional firetrucks that were shorter with longer wheelbases, he said.

A quint — named for its five firefighting tools; hoses and a water supply, water pumping capabilities, ground ladders, an aerial ladder and an aerial water streaming device — combine capabilities of engine and ladder trucks. The new program raised the number of firefighters in each quint company to five, expanded the trucks' firefighting capabilities, improved the city's fire ratings and helped to lower the cost of fire insurance for residents.

The development process and discussions and arguments on how they should be designed "were fun" and necessary for success, Coppinger said. The department's leaders at all levels worked on better strategic planning and fire tactics. The incident command system was implemented to centralize supervisors on the scene to make the best use of resources, he said.

"One thing you've got to remember is firefighters are problem-solvers," Coppinger said. "When they go out in this uncontrolled environment, regardless of what it is when they get dispatched, they are the only responding agency that the clock's on them; that by [firefighting industry standards] requirements they've got to be in these places in less than five minutes," he said.

"They take a lot of pride in that speed."

In its 151 years, Coppinger said, the biggest improvements for Chattanooga's firefighters came in the form of motorized equipment, breathing apparatus, training and life-saving techniques.

"It doesn't just happen by luck," he said. "It's because these people are well-trained. And it's because of good leadership."

Firefighting appeals only to certain people, he said.

"It's almost a calling," Coppinger said. "Firefighters live together so they become really, really close. They are an extremely close-knit group of people. Your lives depend on one another."

Coppinger said he misses his fellow firefighters and appreciates what he learned from them about the importance of teamwork, something of value in his current job as county mayor.

***

Chattanooga's current fire chief, 56-year-old Chris Adams, has been leading the department since July 23, 2015. He and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke led the hall of fame induction ceremony in February.

Adams didn't know what he wanted to do when Jett, who was retired and working at the county courthouse, told Adams' mother, "'Tell that boy to apply to the fire department,'" Adams said. Knowles, who was chief, interviewed Adams and admitted him to the fire academy.

"It was a lot of action, a lot of adrenalin, a lot of helping people and a lot of making a difference," he said. "It really got in my blood."

Adams as a child daydreamed about helping people, and his advisor and teacher at Soddy-Daisy High School said his aptitude tests pointed toward a career of exactly that.

"The first day I reported for work I responded on an ambulance and I really saw how you can help people," he said. "Most things you do on a job, you don't see the results very quickly.

"You see the results of your efforts immediately if someone's lying there in pain or they're bleeding profusely or they've got a fracture or need CPR and you get them back. There's nothing like that feeling," Adams said. "Then I started going on fire calls and thought, 'Golly, this is something. I'm saving their possessions that they can't replace.'"

Adams found the place "where I need to be."

***

As the Chattanooga Fire Department moves into its 16th decade, the improvements are still aimed at the same foe — time.

In February, the department announced the purchase of three new quick response vehicles, or QRVs. The specially equipped Ford Explorers each are staffed with two firefighters trained to the EMT or EMT "advanced" level and stationed in the areas with the highest volume of medical emergencies — Willow Street, Hickory Valley Road and Hixson Pike.

The smaller, more nimble trucks can get to an emergency faster than ambulances or firetrucks and the crews can start helping victims immediately. And earlier this year, the department got a $1.8 million grant to add 14 firefighters to staff the QRVs and squad trucks.

In the next 30 years, Adams imagines robotic firefighting equipment, drones and technology that hasn't been thought of yet.

"What worries me about the fire service is we're going to forget all the people that came before us and what it was like then and what it's like now," he said. "We take it for granted, their sacrifice — they didn't live long, didn't have air packs, didn't know what the smoke was doing to them."

If those men fail to pass along what they experience, their successors could be forced to retrace those steps, he said. The Hall of Fame preserves the history of the department's major players.

What won't change is the fire department's deep connection to its community and people, the chief said.

Sitting outside Station 12, he said, "I feel like I'm part of this neighborhood. People are coming by jogging, walking their dogs, they talk to you, they call the firefighters by name. They are part of the community. They do live there for 24 hours at a time.

"When something happens it's like it's their family."

Most times, people don't know who their firefighting neighbors are or how important they are until disaster strikes.

But that's OK, even when someone says, "I never thought it could happen to me."

If it does, help's coming and you'll know them right away.

They'll be driving a big red truck.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.

CHATTANOOGA FIRE DEPARTMENT TODAY

Total CFD personnel: 423, including 16 civilians

Firefighters: 407

Engines: 6

Ladders: 2

Tankers: 6

Squads: 5

Quints: 13

Fire/rescue boats: 2

Quick-Response Vehicles: 3

Battalion chief trucks: 9

Haz-Mat trucks and trailers: 5

Urban Search and Rescue: 3 (including 18-wheeler for related equipment and supplies)

Mass casualty trailers: 3

Brush trucks: 3

ATV side-by-sides with trailers: 3

Command Trailer

Source: Chattanooga Fire Department

WHO YOU GONNA CALL?

The Chattanooga Fire Department has experienced considerable growth in the numbers of calls over the years. The following shows call-volume growth over the last 10 years.

Year Fire Medical Rescue Assists Total

2005 492 4,390 231 6,608 11,721

2006 550 6,142 174 5,191 12,057

2007 475 5,719 164 5,428 11,786

2008 439 6,104 153 5,72 12,416

2009 390 6,849 169 6,794 14,202

2010 394 7,875 148 7,360 15,777

2011 337 8,229 168 7,836 16,570

2012 263 8,707 184 7,469 16,623

2013 267 7,806 176 7,562 15,811

2014 289 8,079 197 7,585 16,150

2015 277 8,996 169 8,197 17,639

2016* 381 9,364 195 8,896 18,836

*To date Source: Chattanooga Fire Department

NOT A CHIEF, BUT A REAL HERO

There were four men inducted as inaugural members of the Chattanooga Fire Department’s Hall of Fame in 2016. Retired firefighter John Gross was inducted as an inaugural member of the hall of fame for his actions on Oct. 10, 1974, when he was a senior firefighter and EMT answering a traffic accident call on Interstate 24’s “ridgecut.” Gross was attending the crash victim when a tractor trailer skidded into the accident scene. Gross pulled the victim out of the truck’s path but was struck by the victim’s car when it was hit by the big truck. Gross suffered a knee injury that would linger the rest of his life, but another life was saved in his sacrifice. Gross was awarded the Carnegie Medal in addition to the hall of fame honor. Gross thanked his wife, the City of Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Fire Department and all the people he worked with. “We were a team,” he said during the award presentation.

A LOOK BACK

Impressed throughout his life by his father’s love of the department and its men, Steve Jett smiled as he read a letter firefighters at Station 1 wrote in 1945 to the U.S. Army. It was a letter they wrote on Harry Jett’s behalf. It hints at what they thought of him and showed they all had a sense of humor, even though Jett had just been drafted into the conflict as it wound down.

“‘His talents are many and varied. It will not be necessary to teach him how to make up his bunk or keep his surroundings in apple-pie order as he is already a master of these arts. He not only wields a mean broom but he knows a dish towel and dust cloth or a polish rag by sight.

“‘If the army wants any peaches canned, Harry Jett is their man. He is much too modest to ever mention that he took any blue ribbons at the fair with his canned good entries.

“‘As a painter, Harry ranks 1-A and he is unique in this field in that the paint he slings always lands where it’s supposed to go and not 50 feet in every direction.

Harry knows something of the use of firearms but it might be well to have him brush up a bit on directions and targets as he’s been known to hit things he didn’t aim at,” Steve Jett read from the letter, then stopped to offer some explanation.

“The story behind that is he had a hunting accident and shot himself in the foot. That’s why he was so late being drafted,” he interjected with a laugh. The other guys at the station enjoyed giving their buddy a little tongue-in-cheek ribbing before he went off to war.

When he returned from the war he went back to his buddies and his beloved fire department, a department he would eventually lead.

 

 

 

 

 

Correction: The 1949 entry in the text box was updated to show that Capt. William E. Blair was killed near the American Legion, not the VFW.

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