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Not Clocked Out: How first responders in East Tennessee spend their Thanksgiving

While people across East Tennessee chow down with friends and family, some first responders work through the holiday.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — While many people are out having fun chowing down with friends and family, some people couldn't clock out of their jobs. First responders don't leave work for Thanksgiving. Instead, they're keeping communities safe.

The Rural Metro Fire Squad spent Thanksgiving together. Jeff Bagwell with Rural Metro has worked in public safety for 37 years. He spent 25 years on a truck as a paramedic and a firefighter.

"Holidays at the fire station are neat because we've got a Christmas tree, the lights are out front. We try to make it festive because we have to live here," he said. "It takes a special type of soul to be married to a fireman. You know, to get used to you getting up and leaving. Most of us get into it for the desire to help others and make a difference.”

Out of his 25 years on the front line, he has spent more Thanksgiving holidays at the station than at home. He said that the fire station has become a home for him and all the firemen.

"You spend a third of the time with the guys at the fire station, so they get to be a part of your family," Bagwell said.

Over the decades, Bagwell made a difference in several lives as he leaves the station on calls of all kinds. He has responded to crisis calls to calls from overcooked popcorn.

"Every call is almost like a little competition against death," he said. "You're trying to nudge father time a little bit farther down the road."

There have been good times that still make him smile to this day. Like one call he responded to during his time volunteering when he ended up delivering a baby on Christmas day.

"I was a volunteer and I left my in-laws' house to go to this call and came back and I was just ecstatic. I've delivered seven [babies],” Bagwell said.

It’s not very often you get to see the full circle of the work he does, but he said that it's always rewarding when he gets to meet somebody that they helped.

"I ran into her, I think maybe she was friends with my daughter and she ran up to me and she said 'Hey, I think you delivered me,' and I said, 'You're kidding,'" Bagwell said.

There have been hard times too. Bagwell describes any call having to do with a child as very difficult. A car crash years ago he said he still has nightmares about.

"I thought, 'This is a child.' And it was a baby who was not breathing, and I remember doing CPR on that kid for 30 minutes,” Bagwell said.

He continues to carry some of the emotional weight of tragedy.

"My wife will wake me up, I'll be doing CPR in my sleep on the floor," he said.

Despite the hard times, he said he is thankful for both his family and his work family who have been stuck with him, right at his side.

"We will give each other grief. We will pick on each other but don't let anybody pick on us," Bagwell said.