The Tullahoma Fire Department (TFD) said goodbye to three longtime employees on Friday morning, sharing stories, smiles and tears about their time serving the community.
Deputy Fire Chief Phil Duncan and Lts. Ricky Prince and Steve Brazelton retired from the department after a combined 87 years of service to the department and were honored for that dedication to the community.
Two of the three retirees, Duncan and Prince, shook numerous hands and gave multiple hugs to friends, family, coworkers and fellow firefighters during the party, cracking jokes about their newfound free time and how they were going to miss being around the department every day. Brazelton was unable to attend, but Fire Chief Richard Shasteen said it was for a good cause: a new job. Brazelton accepted a position with the Emergency Management Service and was on shift on Friday morning.
Losing the three men was a bittersweet affair, according to Fire Chief Richard Shasteen, as the department is also losing their invaluable institutional knowledge.
Shasteen was particularly emotional when speaking of Duncan, saying he wasn’t just losing a coworker: he was also losing an incredible mentor and a friend.
“It’s going to be tough,” Shasteen said.
Shasteen worked under Duncan for a number of years while Duncan was still captain, guiding Shasteen through his education and helping him become a better firefighter, Shasteen said.
“When I first started, he was an example to me as far as getting my education,” Shasteen said. “He told me, ‘Don’t wait for someone to send you to school – you take vacation and you go yourself,’ and that’s what I did. That’s what he did.”
Not having Duncan around every day and on calls with the department will be an adjustment, Shasteen added.
“We’ll be looking back behind us now and he’s not going to be there,” he said.
Duncan has served as the department’s “go-to guy” for most situations, according to Shasteen. “More than likely, he’s already seen it more than once, and that’s going to [leave] a huge gap.”
Shasteen wasn’t the only one share stories about Duncan’s history at TFD. During the comments portion of the event, several friends and former coworkers of Duncan got up to share their favorite stories of the deputy chief during his time with TFD.
Jimmy Thompson, who worked with Duncan at the state fire academy, recalled a funny story about an encounter with some melted chocolate.
It all started at a fire chiefs’ conference in Nashville several years ago, Thompson said. Duncan stopped inside the host hotel to get a drink of water on a particularly hot day.
“He passed by this vendor’s table that had all kinds of chocolate candy on it … [and] gets a big handful of these chocolate Kisses and puts them in his pockets and goes back outside,” Thompson said.
After a while, Thompson continued, Duncan forgot about the candy and went about his business until he started getting a “weird feeling in his pocket.”
Upon investigating the feeling, Thompson said, Duncan brought a chocolate-covered hand out of his pocket.
“Imagine what it looked like,” Thompson told a laughing crowd. “It was a while before he got over that.”
Thompson then presented Duncan with a fresh bag of Hershey’s Kisses to make up for the melted chocolate in Nashville.
“I brought you a brand-new bag of chocolate kisses,” Thompson told Duncan. Thompson also presented Duncan with a handcrafted wooden bowl he made to hold the candies.
“All through the years I’ve known Phil to be confident and knowledgeable, and he always had the safety and well-being of firemen next to his heart,” Thompson said.
Other stories included a brief run-in with law enforcement at the old fire school, shared by former Hendersonville Fire Chief Jamie Steele.
While closing up a building, an alarm was tripped and police were called out to check out the scene.
Steele didn’t know the alarm was tripped until he saw Duncan with his hands up in front of a squad car with its lights on.
“He was telling [the cops] ‘Don’t shoot,’” Steele recalled with a laugh.
Many others got up to thank Duncan for being an inspiration to them in their careers, either professionally or personally.
Terry Smith, who works for the Murfreesboro Fire Department, said he aspired to be “half the instructor you represent” during his career with MPD.
Words of wisdom
Each retiree received a commemorative plaque listing their years of service, hire date and retirement date.
When presenting Prince with his plaque, Shasteen said Prince “set the example ever since he’s been here.”
“We will miss you,” he told Prince.
After being presented with a commemorative plaque, Prince shared some “words of wisdom” with the remaining crew of TFD, though he prefaced that he couldn’t take credit for the adage.
“I heard [this] on my show ‘Moonshiners’ the other night,” he said with a smile. “One guy says, ‘You were born with two eyes, two ears and one mouth. You’re supposed to do twice the looking, twice the listening and half the talking.’”
Prince said he thought that was “pretty good” advice.
On a more serious note, Prince told the younger employees left at the department that all they needed to do was “the right thing.
“Everything else will work out; just do the right thing,” he said.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.