Rural/Metro has a new fire chief in Knox County.

Gene Blaylock, who's worked for the department since it came to Knox County in 1977, will take on the top job. Over the course of his 36-year career, Blaylock has served at five stations and received numerous promotions, culminating in his recent advancement to fire chief.

He replaces Jerry Harnish, who was named Rural/Metro of Tennessee Regional Manager on an interim basis last week. Harnish will now keep that job permanently.

"Chief Blaylock is part of the fabric here at Rural/Metro," Harnish said. "He's been here since operations began, and he is a proven leader. I have full confidence that Gene will continue to provide excellent fire protection coverage to our Rural/Metro Fire Department subscribers in the county."

As chief, Blaylock will be responsible for protecting 216,500 residents and operating 15 fire stations in Knox County, 12 of which house paramedic engine companies. He also will oversee strategic planning for the department; disaster planning and response; budget; and oversight of the chief officers.

"When I was a college student, I took a job with Rural/Metro because it gave me time to continue going to school," Blaylock said. "I liked firefighting so much, I decided to pursue it as a full-time career."

Blaylock was born in Crossville but moved to Knoxville as a child, where he was a member of the first freshman class at the old Doyle High School. He earned a degree in business management at UT. He lives with his wife, Debra, in South Knox County. His son, Logan, is also a Rural/Metro firefighter.