For 22 years, Paul Rucker worked at his uncle’s business, Brentwood Interiors. When his father opened Ed’s Flooring Store in Nashville, he then joined him there and continued part time with his uncle. He thought he was doing OK.
Then 9/11 happened, and he realized OK wasn’t enough.
“It was post 9/11 when I decided what I was doing was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said.
Rucker decided to pursue a career in emergency services. For a brief time, he considered a career as a paid firefighter. He applied to the Nashville Fire Department, but when he didn’t get a call back, he knew where he was meant to be. He went back to school to study emergency medical services.
In 2004, Rucker joined Williamson Medical Center EMS. He found his niche, but he wanted more. He wanted to be able to volunteer, but at the time, his wife, Michele, three daughters and a son needed him more.
“Someday,” he thought. Sometimes in life, it’s all about timing.
In the early morning hours of Aug. 15, 2014, a tanker containing 9,000 gallons of fuel hit a support beam on the Goose Creek Bypass bridge over Interstate 65 and exploded. Heat from the fiery blaze caused damaged to both the original bridge and the recently installed steel trusses of a new bridge under construction as part of a major interchange improvement project.
Both bridges had to come down. The impact on traffic was insurmountable, but the impact on emergency services to the east side of I-65, one of the fastest-growing areas of Williamson County, was even more of a nightmare.
An emergency temporary fire station was set up at the Williamson County AgExpo, and leadership from the city of Franklin and Williamson County came together to revamp public safety plans for the future, including a permanent city fire station on the east side of the interstate near the AgExpo and a county fire station on the west side to serve that growing area.
Almost four years later, Rucker heard the Williamson County Rescue Squad was recruiting volunteers for its newest addition: Station 24 on the Goose Creek Bypass.
“At the new station, EMS would have a role,” Rucker said. “I live close by, and it was something I always wanted to do. Someday came.”
Rucker applied, and a few weeks later began six months of firefighter training.
“Training was two nights a week and weekends,” he said. “Even now, we still have meetings once a week with continuing training, checking equipment, washing the trucks and working.
“Calls come in at any time. I’m willing to wake up at 3 in the morning to help a stranger at the darkest time of life. You don’t know the time commitment. You just have to balance paid and volunteer jobs.”
It can be exhausting, but according to Rucker, the rewards are worth the balancing, odd hours and exhaustion. In recent months, he’s been on calls to rescue cows from frozen ponds, horses from a collapsed barn and people from flooded homes.
“It feels rewarding,” he said. “It’s exciting. It brings the little boy out. It’s the adrenaline. It’s exciting and fun to hang out with everyone here. It’s hard to describe the feeling, the camaraderie and the relationships built when working as a team. Some people golf, some people fish. This is what I do as a hobby.”
With all the excitement and adrenalin rushes, there are unexpected rewards, moments when giving back is actually fun.
“Before COVID-19, we would frequently host birthday parties for boys and girls at the Station 24 firehouse,” Rucker said. “It’s a lot of fun to have kids in our firehouse. We showed off the fire trucks and sprayed water at a pretend burning building. After the COVID lock down, some smart people came up with the great idea of drive-by parades. We did several in our district.”
The parade of emergency vehicles led dozens of cars past the homes of birthday girls and boys. On several occasions, they emptied the firehouse of vehicles. Fire trucks, ambulances and even a couple police cars joined friends and families in long parades through the streets and neighborhoods.
“So much of what we do as a service deals with loss of property or tragedy in peoples’ lives,” Rucker said. “It’s great to show up on good days to celebrate with our community. I’m really comfortable where I am. When I joined the fire department, I was glad I stayed with EMS. With the volunteering side, there are lot of different opportunities and a lot of different roles.”