KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Rural Metro Fire walked 32 new recruits across a graduation stage at the Knox County Health Department auditorium on Thursday.
This group of firefighters represents the last three recruiting classes from 2020, 2021, and 2022. Rural Metro honored all three classes because they were not able to have an in-person ceremony since 2019.
The 32 new recruits join a department with 200 employees, and they were welcomed with open arms. Similar to the rest of the country, Rural Metro is seeing a shortage of applications to go into fire service.
Money is keeping more people from joining those ranks, and so are safety and the nature of the work. According to Rural Metro Public Information Officer, Jeff Bagwell, Rural Metro has risen to the top of the ranks in terms of pay in the area.
However, the new recruits aren't harping on that. They are more focused on the impact they are going to make in the community.
"It's hard. It is hard work, but the reward is great. And it's rewarding every day," said Logan Bagwell.
Logan is a second-generation firefighter. He was a part of the 2021 graduating class. He is also the son of Jeff Bagwell, who has worked with Rural Metro for 37 years.
"My son's in this class. And he has wanted to be in the fire service since he was a baby," Jeff said.
Jeff told stories about how Logan would use to ride around in the fire trucks and hang out with the firefighter at the stations.
"This has been what he's always wanted to do," Jeff said. "So, for me to watch him do it is pretty special."
Another thing that drew him to fire service was the brotherhood he saw among the firefighters, Logan said.
"Growing up with my dad being around the fire station every day, I loved it. I loved the relationships, and the brotherhood really drove me to this passion to love fire service," Logan said. "My heart is here. For the people in Knox County, and with the brothers and sisters in this apartment."
Another new recruit is Ryan Brothers. He was a leader in the 2022 class and he said he wanted a career that challenged him.
"You can never learn too much. You can never know everything. And it's always a constant journey. And that's kind of what I was looking for," Brothers said.
Brothers is a former U.S. Marine, so he wanted a career that would allow him to continue to grow and be a leader.
"Rural Metro is always progressive, and always looking to improve. And I'm proud to be a part of that," Brothers said.
Applications for the 2023 recruitment class will open in mid-November.