Johnson City firefighter behind viral photo recalls Sevier Co. fires one year later

JOHNSON CITY, TENN. (WJHL) – So many images are still fresh in the minds of many across Tennessee one year to the day after deadly fires ripped through Sevier County, Tenn. One image of Johnson City firefighters resting after grueling work, went viral.

That photo, so widely shared, Ellen Degeneres even tweeted about it, tens of thousands of her fans shared it with the world.

“It’s hard to put into words because it’s so overwhelming,” Firefighter and paramedic Kevin Colbaugh said.

Colbaugh said the Sevier County fires were like nothing he’s ever seen before.

He has an album in his phone with images and videos from that day, holding onto the heartbreaking memories of the day he spent with his team fighting the fires that killed 14 people.

“They were going through a hard time and they were suffering, the people that live in that community, we were happy to be a small part of that to help,” Colbaugh said.

He even captured an image of his team resting after working for nearly 30 hours.

“It pretty much represents a collaborative effort of everyone there,” Colbaugh said.

That image, later shared all over social media.

“I sent it to a couple of my friends and said here you go, good job. The rest was history I guess,” Colbaugh said.

One year later, Colbaugh is thrilled to see rebuilding and progress all over Sevier County.

“It’s a childhood dream come true,” Colbaugh said about doing a job he loves.

It’s an experience he said he’ll never forget.

“The things we do for others, that’ll live forever,” Colbaugh said.

Colbaugh said they’ve become more aware and better prepared as a department after seeing what happened in Sevier County.

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