New Emergency Mobility Equipment Trailer to assist first responders, disabled

By Bill Howard

Suppose a fire in a high-rise apartment building required the desperate evacuation of someone confined to a wheelchair.

Waiting for an elevator that might not work could mean death, and trying to include the person’s wheelchair in a manual rescue would likely make it vastly more cumbersome and life-threatening.

Carrying the person to safety might well be the only option. But how then to deal with the person’s mobility challenges after they are safely out of the building?

Two such incidents over the last 15 months in Knoxville raised that question front and center. And a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Wednesday will help provide the answer.

A panel that included Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, City of Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and various members of the disability, firefighting, and emergency management communities cut the ribbon on the Emergency Mobility Equipment Trailer.

The event occurred at Knoxville Emergency Management Agency at 605 Bernard Ave.

The trailer is chock full of devices that aid the mobility-challenged: wheelchairs, walkers, canes and crutches, among other things. Blankets and earmuffs are also included.

“We can carry the patient down from the upper floors, but how do you put them on the bus, how do you get them to the shelter?” asked Paul Trumpore, executive director of the Tennessee Federation of Fire Chaplains. “This is a ready resource that will greatly help.”

Colin Ickes, director of Knoxville-Knox Co. Emergency Management Agency, thanked two primary figures in the disabilities community: Stephanie Cook, ADA Coordinator, City of Knoxville; and Carly Pearson, ADA Coordinator, Knox County.

“We have a lot of partners, supporters, and collaborators to thank today,” Ickes said. “Stephanie and Carly, thank you for your leadership and expertise, without which we could not have moved to make the progress we have.”

According to Ickes, Cook and Pearson were instrumental in developing a committee called SAFE: Securing Accessibility for Emergencies. The committee addresses a wide range of issues and challenges faced by the disabled.

“This emergency trailer has long been needed, and it has become a more salient priority after a series of difficult evacuations, said Kincannon. “(The two evacuations) were a wake-up call. So here we are today, grateful for the broad and compassionate partnership that quickly provided this trailer and filled it with critically important equipment.”

Multiple organizations have combined to provide funding and support for the trailer and equipment. In addition to the City of Knoxville and Knox Co., they include the City of Knoxville Disability Services Office, Knox East TN Healthcare Coalition, the American Red Cross, Region II EMS Directors Association, and Emergency Management Knoxville-Knox Co.

“Because of the crucial partnerships, we’ve been able to purchase and stock this trailer with vital safety equipment,” said Jacobs. Jacobs thanked Kincannon for the city’s help. Trumpore gave special thanks to Jacobs.

The trailer, bought by Knox Co., is to be operated by the Tennessee Federation of Fire Chaplains.

“When there’s a need you call for help,” said Trumpore. “I’m just blessed that I know some folks to call. This just makes it a ready resource.”

“Mayor Jacobs, I seriously want to thank you,” Trumpore went on. “I didn’t have the money to buy a trailer. You made the impetus to make the next step so that we could say ‘we now have something to put it (the equipment) into, now let’s go.’”