For Hendersonville resident Tim Jones, watching his son Zack graduate from the Tennessee Fire Service and Codes Enforcement Academy recently was a full-circle moment he won’t soon forget.
Zack Jones, 20, was one of nine Hendersonville firefighters to officially graduate from the academy on May 3.
His father couldn’t help but think about the near-tragic event 18 years ago that Zack credits for inspiring him to become an emergency responder.
Tim Jones had been working out of town in Kentucky in March of 2001 when someone told him he needed to call home immediately.
After learning that his youngest son, two-year-old Zack, had choked on a gum ball and aspirated, Jones headed down I-65 to Huntsville, Ala., where the toddler was being taken via Lifeflight helicopter.
“My mother told me what happened and I drove down the interstate at like 90-miles-per-hour,” recalled Jones. “All of the beds were full at Vanderbilt and the closest pediatric ICU was in Huntsville. He was in surgery when I got there.”
Jones would learn later that Zack had gotten ahold of a gum ball meant for one of his older siblings. No one was sure how long the toddler’s airway was blocked because his brother Corey had to first get the attention of their mother, Michelle Detwiler, who was deaf. Someone alerted a neighbor who dislodged the gum ball and called 911.
According to a news report at the time of the incident, paramedics and firefighters stationed at Fire Station 1 on Luna Lane responded to the Lakeshore Apartments within minutes of receiving the call. Zack was taken to Hendersonville Hospital before being flown to the Huntsville hospital.
“No one knew how long he had been without oxygen,” said Jones. “That’s what made it so touch-and-go. The doctors could never tell us he was going to be OK until he woke up.”
The toddler was kept in a medically induced coma for eight days before waking up. He was released from the hospital four days after that.
Tim Jones says he stayed by his son’s side the entire time watching movies like “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life” more than a dozen times.
The dad says he knew for sure his son would fully recover when he started singing a local radio station’s jingle unprompted on the way home from Huntsville.
“When he chimed in to sing, that was the first thing he responded to on his own,” Tim Jones recalled. “It was something so small, but we knew then he was going to be OK.”
‘A noble career’
Zack says he has little memory of the accident, but always remembers wanting to become a firefighter.
“I vaguely remember my dad visiting me,” he said. “But I’ve heard about it over the years. Hearing the stories of what happened, it just sparked an interest in that career.”
Zack remembers visiting the Luna Lane fire station for years after the incident at Christmas time.
“We used to always take them food to sort of say, ‘thank you,’” he recalls.
In 2016, Zack and Corey met with HFD Capt. Dennis Allen, who has since retired. The two told Allen they were thinking about joining the fire department and Allen told them what they needed to do to make their goals a reality.
The two brothers went to take the eligibility test in September of 2016, but Zack was just shy of turning 18.
“I had to wait another year to take the test,” he said.
Corey Jones, 23, joined the fire department in 2017 while Zack was hired in December of 2018.
“I love that I get to work with my community – that I get to see familiar faces everywhere I go,” said Zack, who is assigned to Station 3 on Bonita Parkway. “I want to give other people the second chance that I got when I was two years old.”
Tim Jones says he’s proud of both of his sons.
“I couldn’t ask for a more noble career for the both of them,” he said. “They made me proud growing up and it kind of continues now.”
And then there’s that full-circle moment he had recently with his youngest son.
“How many people have the opportunity of having what could have been such a tragic event like this come full circle in such a positive way?” he asked. “Hopefully the story will continue with other people who will have their lives saved through him.”