On the morning of November 28, 2016, Sevier County Electric System in Eastern Tennessee had 56,368 customers. By the end of the day 2,402 of those were gone – gone because those homes and buildings had been completely incinerated by a sudden, unexpected surge of wildfires, fueled by 90 MPH wind gusts.
Many stories and articles have been written about the 2016 Great Smoky Mountain wildfires – how they happened and the bravery of the first responders. But not much has been written about the first responders for the first responders: the Sevier County Electric System linemen. Without these men putting themselves in harm’s way — literally going into the depths of a fiery hell — downed power lines laying a cross roads would have prevented emergency crews from getting to the fire, and prevented panicked citizens from getting out. And without these men risking their lives to get electricity running again to critical water pump stations, the firemen wouldn’t have had all the water they needed to prevent the fires from consuming downtown Gatlinburg.
That was the situation on November 28, 2016. A bunch of brave guys who are used to fighting Mother Nature to keep the lights on, were trying to get the job done against all odds. And the office team dispatching them couldn’t see what they were up against and just kept trying to get them to the outages, not realizing we were sending them into harm’s way. All of this was overseen by me, Allen Robbins, General Manager of the electric system who had been on the job for all of four months. I put on a brave face, but I was just as scared as the guys in the field.
For all of us, it was Trial by Fire. This book is our story.
A true story of courage and bravery. A story not often told