Franklin Fire Battalion Chief Retires Since 1968, Chief Gentry Fox has been fighting fires in Williamson County
After a 38-year career with the Franklin Fire Department and 44 years of total firefighting experience, Battalion Chief Gentry Fox will retire on Sunday morning when he completes his final 24-hour shift at 6 a.m.
Born and raised in Franklin, Fox began his firefighting career as a volunteer with the Williamson County Rescue in 1968 before graduating from Franklin High School.
While the Franklin Fire Department is now an all-career department, it used to be a combination paid and volunteer department and Fox started volunteering for Franklin in 1974.
Fox has seen many changes in both the city and the fire department since he became a paid on-call volunteer firefighter nearly 40 years ago. During that time he worked as an electrician and his employer permitted him to respond to fires. Fox said volunteers were paid $5 per fire, “Unless we hooked up to a fire hydrant, then they upped it two or three dollars,” said Fox. “So everything we could we hooked to a fire hydrant.”
Fox said there was a siren on top of the old Franklin High School gym near H.G. Hills on Columbia Avenue that would sound when there was a fire and WAGG radio (now WAKM) would broadcast the fire’s location. Volunteers responded in their personal vehicles.
Fox said the paid firefighters also served as the dispatchers for both the fire and police departments. They worked out of the fire hall and city offices (old Station 1) at 604 West Main St. (now the Stites and Harbison law firm). If they answered the phone and there was a fire, they activated the siren and group alerting system then left for the fire. Fox said, “Then the police had to come in and take over the phone and turn off the siren.” He added, “If they weren’t available that siren would blow for what seemed like the longest time.”
He was hired full-time by the late Fire Chief J.W. Culberson in 1984. He has served as firefighter, engineer and lieutenant then was promoted to Deputy Chief in administration in 1995. He returned to shift in his present position as battalion chief in 2002, where he supervises the A-shift battalion and is the commander during major incidents, directing on-scene operations.
As Fox reflected back on his career, he recalled many memorable incidents. He remembered there were three significant fires on Main St. in just a little over a year. “We had to call Nashville for each one because we didn’t have an aerial (ladder truck),” said Fox. (Franklin got their first aerial in 1988. It was a 1985 Snorkel.)
Those fires included the Ben Franklin 5 and 10 at 338 Main St. on Dec. 22, 1979, (where The Iron Gate is today), followed by the Haversak bar on August 24, 1980 at the corner of 4th and Main where The Registry is now located (347 Main St.). Then the Redmond liquor store at 416 Main St. caught fire on March 2, 1981. Fox said there was living space above the store which was located across from the Franklin Theatre in the building that now houses Bathos. “We made four rescues – two out front and two out back,” said Fox. Fox said store owner Mr. Redmond was one of the people rescued but suffered serious burns.
A tragic fire involving a family of five with three young girls occurred on January 28, 1981, in the Theodore Apartments on Adams St. (where the Generals Retreat condos are now located). “The mother handed one of the children out of the bathroom window and had the opportunity to escape but went back for her other daughters. All three of them died.” Fox said the father was severely injured when he jumped through a plate glass window.
On April 16, 1986, the Log Cabin Country Store caught fire while Fox was working at Station 2 on Murfreesboro Rd. He answered the phone when it rang around 5 a.m. He said, “When the dispatcher told me we have a fire at the country store on 96 West I hung up the phone and went back to bed.” New Highway 96 West was Station 1’s district. But it turned out the fire was actually on 96 east – a Station 2 call.
Another tragedy occurred on July 20, 1987, when Fox lost his stepmother and stepbrother in a fire at 210 Bridge St. that started due to careless smoking. He went in to rescue them himself, along with now Battalion Chief Eddie House, but they did not survive.
Other big fires that he helped fight included the Jewel Brothers Tobacco Warehouse fire on April 12, 1989 that killed one man, The Landings Apartments fire on April 10, 2002, and the 7,600 square foot Westhaven house fire on October 3, 2010 that injured four firefighters and caused $2.5 million in damage.
He said one of the things he’s most proud of in his career is that there have been no on-duty firefighter deaths under his command. “If I can get out of here without that on my record I’ll thank God for that,” said Fox.
“We used to go to fire calls all the time,” said Fox. “Without question the number of fires has decreased. I attribute that to our codes department.” He said because of the influx of new construction and remodeling of older structures buildings in Franklin are much safer now. He said, “Most of our calls today are medical.”
Fox is also an EMT-IV. In 2000 he returned to Volunteer State Community College and obtained an A.S. in Fire Science Technology. He said, “If I had the opportunity to go back and do anything over I’d continue with my education.”
He said what he’ll miss most is the “camaraderie with the guys.” “This is a second family,” said Fox. “I’ve spent holidays here. It’s a home away from home. It’s a family.” He also said he would miss the excitement. Then added, “But I’ve seen enough excitement.”
As for his retirement plans, He said “Honey-do lists! I’ve got enough projects around the house to last two or three years.” He and his wife Ann are also planning a trip to Florida in February.
Fox will continue to work as a part-time instructor at the Tennessee Fire Service and Code Enforcement Academy, something he’s done for nearly 20 years. He is known and respected by firefighters statewide as an experienced and skilled leader and instructor. He’s taught everything from pump school to fire officer training. But he says, “Basic firefighting is my specialty.” “It’s one of my passions. I enjoy doing it.”
“It’s been an honor to have someone like Chief Fox working with the Franklin Fire Department,” said City Administrator Eric Stuckey. “He’s leaving a legacy here with many firefighters that have trained with him and learned from his heroic actions over the years.”
Fox and his wife Ann have nine children, 27 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. They live in Smyrna.
Posted on: 12/14/2012