GATLINBURG (WATE) – A Sevier County native played a huge role in rallying agencies to help battle the wildfires. Kevin Lauer is a state mutual aid coordinator and called more than 150 groups to help Gatlinburg that week.
“This is the largest response in the history of Tennessee,” said Lauer.
Lauer works in Nashville for the Tennessee Fire Chiefs Association. It is a position made for disasters like this. He began seeing videos and pictures of heavy smoke in the afternoon. He texted Sevierville Fire Chief Matt Henderson, the district coordinator for mutual aid. Lauer asked if the Great Smoky Mountains National Park fire should be on the radar. Shortly after, he said Galtinburg Fire Department asked for more departments to be on standby.
“It was a proactive stance on their point because the resources were there ahead of the fire hitting,” he said.
Once it did hit, Lauer’s calls to different agencies were non-stop.
“Twenty engines. 10 ladders. 15 tankers. Wildland trucks. As soon as we get those filled, there would be another large request,” Lauer said.
He didn’t believe fire departments had any idea the fire would grow to the magnitude it did.
“Fires don’t move like that typically in the eastern United States. That’s a western type of a fire,” he said.
He rallied more than 1,000 people to Gatlinburg that week. He said most of them showed up within the first few days of the fire spreading.
“That’s a tough call when you are asking people to go into something that they may or may not make it out of,” Lauer said.
It was an even tougher call for this Sevier County native and former firefighter in Sevierville. He said he is thankful for the sacrifice first responders made that night for his hometown.
“To come in and risk what they did, there is no way that we could have been able to help,” he said.