Hanging up the helmet

Chief Graves praised, career celebrated as 42-year veteran retires

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By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

Former Alcoa Fire Chief Larry Graves could sleep as late as he wanted this morning. And if the weather was warmer, he could even ride to the Smokies and spend a day in the mountains on his Harley-Davidson.

Graves retired Friday, Feb. 9, after a 42-year career with the department. A standing room only crowd packed into the fire hall on North Wright Road late that afternoon to celebrate his career.

About 15 minutes before the masses began filing in, Graves stood chatting with a handful of friends. He shared his thoughts on serving with a department he said only had six full-time members and worked 48-hour shifts when he started.

"It’s been so hard to explain. All who knew me thought I’d never retire," he said.

Graves said he had been overwhelmed by well-wishers.

The chief said he was only 21 when he went to work with the department, which was primarily a volunteer staff. "We’ve
grown to a fire department that is full service," he said. "We’ve grown from one station to three stations."

The department responds to fires, provides hazardous materials response, trench rescue, high-angle rescue and vehicle extraction, he said.

Graves said that while he retired, he is going to retreat from being involved with fire fighting issues. "I’m still going to be involved. I’ll be attending meetings across the state," he said.

Graves travels across the country evaluating fire departments that are attempting to achieve accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He also is a member of the board of directors for the Blount County Fire Utility District.

Stepping in as Alcoa fire chief is former Deputy Chief Roger Robinson. He said he was told three years ago he was being groomed for the position. But Graves also told him the department’s needs came first.

"He said, ‘When it’s time for me to retire, if I think you can do the job, I’ll recommend you. I have to do what’s best for the department, and, if you’re not ready, I’ll recommend someone else,’" Robinson said, recalling Graves’ comments.

Robinson said Graves first chose to retire in 2005, but the personnel arrived in mass and persuaded him to reconsider. The chief said he would stay another year. In December of 2006, he let Robinson know he was ready to retire.

"It was hard. I’ve worked with the chief, and he is the Alcoa Fire Department in my eyes," Robinson said. "Everything about the Alcoa Fire Department is what he’s about."

Blount County General Sessions Judge William Brewer praised Graves for his work on the 911 Emergency Communications board. "He’s been a volunteer member of the 911 board a number of years," Brewer said. "He was a steady influence."

Maryville Fire Chief Ed Mitchell said he hated to see Graves retire. "Larry has not only been a chief, he’s also been a friend I can count on," Mitchell said.

Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp echoed those thoughts. "Larry has been a fine, honorable and humble public servant," Crisp said.

Capt. Tom Dafron praised his former boss and said Graves would be missed. "He’s been a great influence on everyone here. He’s been generous in sharing his knowledge. He’s been a super chief," Dafron said.

Engineer Larry Bledsoe praised Graves for his years of service. "He’s made the department what it is," Bledsoe said.

Firefighter Jake Smithson said he had only been with the department for about three years, but he always knew about the tradition of the department. "I grew up in the city. The fire department has always been respected. Chief Graves is the reason," Smithson said. "He takes pride in the fire department and the city. We’re definitely going to miss him."

Engineer Steven Owens said Graves is very respected in the community and is very caring about his men and their families. "At Christmas time, he buys Christmas presents for all the firefighters’ kids," Owens said.

Shari Green works for both the fire and police departments in the records division. She praised Graves for his character. "He’s the heart of the whole department. He loves everyone. You see the respect he’s got here," she
said. "They love and respect him. He treats everyone like family."

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