KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — After serving the Knoxville community for 28 years, Knoxville Fire Department’s Captain DJ Corcoran will be retiring Friday.
Corcoran has been on the news numerous times as the spokesperson for the Knoxville Fire Department. He would head out to just about every fire scene over the last 13 years and break down what was going on to the media. He was able to do so in a way where firefighting tactics could be understood by the general public.
Before becoming a firefighter, Corcoran worked at WATE 6 On Your Side as a photographer. He said one day on the job, he came across a house fire and was the first at the scene.
“Being the first one on the scene that day, before the fire department arrived, I was just, you know, at a loss. I wasn’t trained to do that,” Corcoran said.
He said watched firefighters arrive a few minutes later and was impressed by their skills and knowledge. That’s when he decided he wanted to help people and become one of those first responders. He said the training never intimidated him.
“(Assistant Deputy Chief Jack Vandergriff), we had Terry Loveday and Mike Roberts. And that was our training staff. And they equipped us well for what was in store for us,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran started off fighting fires on the ground before being promoted to aerial ladder crew, captain and then spokesperson. As his position changed, so did how the department fought fires, or at least the tools they used to help fight the fires.
“Used to, the lights would come on with a bring tone, and you didn’t wake up. You sort of levitated. I mean, it would scare you out of sleep. And it would just, your heart would just be racing. But, now, it’s a more kinder, gentler system,” Corcoran said.
As with many first responders, when those calls came in, he often saw people at the worst times of their lives. He said that part of the job never got easy.
“You see a lot of things that you’ll never forget that you might want to forget. Those things stick out in your memory…You know, just some of the people that didn’t make it, and just some of the tragedy that we’re faced with,” Corcoran said.
He said firefighters learn to deal with the grief of what they see every day through pranks, shenanigans and camaraderie. They spend 24 hours a day with each other cooking, eating, laughing, cleaning and training when they aren’t on a call. They have a good level of trust with their coworkers, which makes them more like family.
“You know, we’ve had firemen that have come from Florida, California, Canada, everywhere in North America. And uh, we’re like, ‘ hey come on, sit down. Talk with us, have some coffee. and tell about how things operate in your area,'” Corcoran said.
He’s even been to Israel with his crew and the Jewish community. They visited those firefighters overseas and learned a lot from one another.
“I guess that’s one thing that I’ll always appreciate, is just the camaraderie, the brotherhood that’s not only just in Knoxville, but extends around the world,” Corcoran said.
Much like handling work-related hardships together, Corcoran said they always came together as a family when they were going through a hard time personally. His fire family was there for him when he lost his son Pierce in a car crash off Chapman Highway.
“It will be three years… since we’ve lost Pierce, and um, I don’t know that you ever get over it…It is hard. You just, a parent should never, never bury a child. It’s just hard,” Corcoran said.
It’s that brotherhood he’ll miss the most. That and being able to praise the good work of his crews on camera to the public.
He said the public should know their taxpayer money isn’t wasted on the city fire and police services. He said he tells his crews daily they make his job easy.
“I tell you, I love this department. I love the city of Knoxville. And it’s easy to be a cheerleader for the fire department when it’s something you love and it’s something you’re proud of,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran said going from fighting the fires to talking about them was difficult for him. He, at first, wanted to jump in and help out, but soon realized he couldn’t do that.
“That was hard pulling back from that and realizing let them go. It’s their turn now and not get in their way. That’s what I try to do is just not stay in their way at that point because it’s just different. You know, you’re not part of that equation,” Corcoran said.
But, he learned his new role, which he switched to in 2008, was an important part of the firefighters’ efforts. He said being the spokesperson had its own challenges, like a pretty rough schedule.
“When I was on a truck, I’d work 24 and then you were off 24. You had that 24 off to recover. And then you do that for three days and you’d have a break. More recovery time. Where, in this position, you’re working Monday through Friday, and then you were on call and if you had a fire that night at 3 in the morning, you had to go. And then you had to be back at work the next morning,” Corcoran said.
He said he wasn’t complaining. But, he was ready for a break, which is why he decided to retire. He said he’d been on call 24-7 for the most part since 2008.
“I was watching Forrest Gump the other day and I said, you know the scene where he’s running? Runs from this coast to that coast and he’s just like, ‘well, I just decided to run.’ And so, he’s running and then one day he goes, ‘I’m tired.’ And he stops,” Corcoran said.
He said that’s what he felt like. It was just time to stop running and spend more moments relaxing and spending time with his wife.
Corcoran said he doesn’t know who will replace him, but he will always be available to that person if they ever need advice. As for what’s next, he said, he’s not entirely sure.
“Monday morning will be my first day without the radio, without the cell phone, I’m going to get up, I’m going to, I think I’m going to wake up, eat breakfast, go to National Fitness, maybe climb House Mountain, swim 10 miles, run a marathon. No! Hahaha I don’t know. I don’t know,” Corcoran said.