NEW TAZEWELL, Tenn. (WATE) — An East Tennessee volunteer fire department is mourning. The South Claiborne Volunteer Fire Department lost one of its members on Monday. Roger Estes, 77, was hit and killed while directing traffic for a local business.
His fellow firefighters said it was hard to show up without Estes, but they did – to share memories, stories and pictures of a man they describe as a mentor, a hero, and an inspiration. Flags are at half staff outside the VFD – a visible sign the department is in mourning.
“We’re just all doing the best we can to try to keep him here with us, he’ll definitely be missed. This place will never be the same again. It still feels like a really bad dream,” said South Claiborne VFD member Justin Hart.
Estes’ grandson and fellow fireman Devin was at the scene.
“I was actually there with him when it happened. And I tell you, you don’t know what to do,” Devin said. “It’s hard. It’s very hard. But I know he wouldn’t want us to be so worried.”
For Devin, his grandfather was an inspiration. For others in the department, he was a role model.
“For that man at 77 years old, he got around like an 18-year-old. He was gung ho 24/7. If that pager tripped, he was there,” Jeremy Harmon said. “I’m thankful that I grew up under him. He was a true smoke eater. He moved down here from New Hampshire as a professional firefighter, he knew his stuff which was awesome. To me, that was a hero. I looked up to him every day.”
South Claiborne will honor Estes by putting his number on their new truck. The woman he always cheered on, Tanya Harmon, will fill his shoes as a lieutenant.
“He just always believed in me from the beginning. A girl joining the fire department – everybody kind of did their little jokes. But he was always behind me, pushing me,” Tanya said. “There’s no man compared to him. He will be very missed.”
South Claiborne Volunteer Fire Department is temporarily out of service. Neighboring agencies are stepping up to cover the area right now, so grieving firefighters don’t have to worry about responding to calls.