Mountain tough: East Tennessee firefighters’ heroic actions save countless lives

'When we rush out, they rush in,' WATE 6 On Your Side heroes show bravery, strength and courage

GATLINBURG (WATE) – Every two weeks I honor “WATE 6 On Your Side Heroes.”

For the past year I’ve been able to share your stories about everyday people making a difference in East Tennessee. I’ve been able to honor everyone from a Knox County teacher inspiring her students, a woman working at the Cansler YMCA who is helping others and excelling despite her disabilities to a foster mother who has taken in 450 kids.

Nominate a WATE 6 On Your Side Hero

This month it was hard to pick just one hero. During the Gatlinburg wildfires and the McMinn County tornado, there were more than 900 firefighters from across Tennessee and even the nation that responded to the call for help. From law enforcement to everyday citizens, there were countless others that stepped up to help others.

We’ve been covering these stories throughout our newscasts, but this week I wanted to take the time to introduce to you to some of the heroes who have inspired me.

The Gatlinburg Fire Department


I have a special place in my heart for the Gatlinburg Fire Department.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller was the calm in the storm. Despite countless hours, his calm presence helped people stay focused first on rescue.

I stopped by their station to say thank you and it was amazing to see the Christmas cards and thank you notes from children all over the country that line the walls of the Gatlinburg Fire Department. They cards mean the world to Chief Miller. Now that the fires are out, Chief Miller is focused on recovery and healing.

>>> Read more

Englewood Fire Department

(J-Boggs Multimedia)
(J-Boggs Multimedia)

At the height of the wildfires in Sevier County, the Englewood Fire Department got the call that a tornado had hit Athens, injuring 20 people and damaging over 100 homes.

Volunteer firefighters had to turn around from fighting the fires in Gatlinburg, to racing back to McMinn County to help those impacted by the tornado. One firefighter had to race time to get, walking 3 miles through debris to rescue a group of people who were trapped, including a woman who was pregnant and actually gave birth.

We visited Chief Billy Roach and part of his crew to find out how they managed to cover both the tornado and the wildfire.

>>> Read more

Oak Ridge Fire Department

(source: Oak Ridge Fire Department)
(source: Oak Ridge Fire Department)

The crews at the Oak Ridge Fire Department helped save the lives of a dozen people trapped in their cars in Wears Valley.

It was good to meet with these brave men, who are under the leadership of Chief Darryl Kerley. With fire rapidly approaching on both sides, firefighters were able to stay calm and get 12 people and four dogs to safety.
>>> Read more

These are just a few of the stories of the countless others that stepped up to help:

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