Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
While Macon County was dealing with smoke and wildfires in the Nantahala National Forest, residents in Tennessee watched as their homes and businesses burned as a wildfire wreaked havoc on downtown Gatlinburg. After learning of a firefighter who lost his home in the Tennessee flames, members of the Franklin Police Department got to work to collect donations for the family.
“Making sure we take care of our own is something that has always been a priority for us as members of law enforcement,” said Franklin Police Department Officer Dwayne Cabe. “All of emergency service workers are one big family, so to learn that part of our family needed help, we knew we needed to do something to help.”
Pete Thompson serves as an AEMT with the Sevier County EMS. He also serves as a firefighter with the Kodak and Gatlinburg Fire Departments. During the blazes that consumed hundreds of homes and business in the small tourist town, Thompson and his wife Yolanda and two daughters, Ana, 16, and Georgia, 11, lost everything.
Thompson was on the front lines of the fires that erupted in the Smoky Mountains, working with the Sevier County Ambulance Service and after learning the wildfires were threatening his neighborhood, he told his family to evacuate and find a hotel. That was about 2 p.m. Around 10 p.m., he responded to an emergency call that took him by his home, which was still standing. About three hours later, he responded to another call in his neighborhood and watched as flames completely consumed his home, helpless as he continued on to the 911 call to do his job.
After learning of Thompson’s story, Cabe and members of the FPD sprang into action.
“We just felt compelled to help, to do something, to do anything,” said Cabe. “We raised $1,100 with donations rom Entegra Bank, Fat Buddies, Beale Construction, Smoky Mountain Chevrolet, and Swain Collision.”
Over the weekend, Cabe, along with Police Chief David Adams, travelled to Tennessee to personally meet with Thompson and give him the check from the Macon County community. While visiting with Thomspon on Friday, Cabe and Adams learned that two other firefighters lost their homes in the flames, leading them to want to do more.
“We want to establish donation points here in town and not just continue to help the Thompson family, but to do what we can for the other firefighters who lost their homes,” said Cabe.
The family has received an influx of clothing, but are still in desperate need of everyday household items like blankets, towels, sheets, pots and pans, and other day-to-day necessities. The Thompson family have found an apartment to stay in while rebuilding, but have a long way to go. With the holidays around the corner, Cabe noted that ensuring Thompson’s daughters receive Christmas is also important.
“We will be going back over before Christmas and taking any donations, monetary or material and personally delivering them to the families,” said Cabe. “While we understand it is important to donate to organizations who are there working to rebuild the city, we think by knowing this family and making the deliveries ourselves, we can be sure they get what they need and that everything is in the right hands.”
Donations can be made at the Franklin Police Department and checks can be made payable to the Franklin Police Department’s Fireman Fund.