Filling boots and buckets

Total approaches $36,000 in roadside collections for Debuty family

Photo with no caption
By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

They stood in the road on Saturday, Feb. 10, empty boots and buckets outstretched, waiting to be filled.

And, in about four and a half hours at the Loudon and Blount County line, those boots and buckets had been filled with more than $35,000 for the Debuty family, who lost four children in a fire on Feb. 6. The exact total came to $35,856.81.

Motorists came from around the region to donate money during the Boots and Buckets fund-raiser. Emergency personnel
from as far away as Oak Ridge also showed up to help collect the cash. While they didn’t stop traffic, pylons were used to slow traffic in both directions so people could stop safely to donate.

"We’ve had a great response, even before we were set up," Brandy Brown of the Loudon County Fire Department said.
Killed in the Feb. 6 fire at their Miser Station Road home in Friendsville were Mandy Mason, 14; J.T. Debuty, 12; Sinjin Smith, 10; and Shelby Debuty, 7. Parents Ross and Amanda Debuty were able to get out of the wood-frame house with Raymond Debuty, 3.

Blount County Sheriff’s Office chaplain Thomas Koehl said the fund-raiser was to start at 10 a.m. Saturday. "When we got here at 9:30, people were stopping to donate," he said.

Loudon County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tony Aikens echoed those thoughts. "It’s just a terrific outpouring. Even before we had this set up, we had people stopping to give money," he said.

Casey Caseber with K-25 Fire Department said personnel there took up a collection in the days following the fire to help the Debuty family. "It was a terrible tragedy. It’s neighbors helping neighbors," he said. "It was a real heart-felt outpouring all the way across the region."

Jarrod Millsaps, community outreach director with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, said the fund-raiser showed the attitude of the community following the fire that left four children dead. "This community is coming together as one," he said.
Fire and law enforcement personnel from throughout the area gave of their personal time to help collect the
money. "Everybody here is on their own time," Millsaps said.

Maryville Fire Department engineer Ken Wade said he was helping at the fund-raiser because there had been a lot of sacrifice to help the family. "There’s really no border between the cities and the county when it comes to children, families and property," he said. "We’re here to help them get a new start in life."

Blount County Sheriff’s deputy Jim Stegall said the personnel collecting money were there because they’re concerned for the Debuty family. "The fire departments, everyone out here, they take a concern for everyone," he said.

Blount County Sheriff James Berrong said the fund-raiser helped the family monetarily, but it also helped the emergency services personnel.

"They’re in this to help people. The night and day of the fire, circumstances didn’t allow us to save lives. This will help the family," he said.

Berrong praised residents from around the area for coming to donate. "This speaks well of all the communities surrounding Blount County to come forward," he said.

Blount County Commissioner Steve Hargis has been a volunteer with the Friendsville Fire Department for 12 years. In the days since the fire, several emergency service personnel have met with chaplains and others to debrief and talk about the Feb. 6 fire that killed four children. "That helps a lot. You get together, and it gets it out. It sure takes the load off," he said.

Hargis said the community’s response to helping the Debuty family has been strong. Hargis said he was impressed with the generosity of neighbors, some of whom aren’t very well off financially themselves. "It’s humbling. They don’t have much, and they give money, " he said.

WIVK radio personality and Blount County native Ted "Gunner" Ousley did a remote broadcast from the fund-raiser. He said when the fire happened, the first thing listeners wanted to know was how they could help.

"It doesn’t replace the children, but people want to do something," he said.

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