Lee Wallace didn’t realize it at first.

“We were on standby for a structure fire,” he said. “It was Covington, Brighton and Three Star. I put my boots on and went out [to leave], I knew it was on Burnett Lane, but it’s hard to hear the numbers in the bay.”


When they were loaded up, Lt. Baker McCool asked Wallace, “1400? Isn’t that where you live?”

“My first thought was, ‘Oh no! She’s sleeping!’ You have a house burning and a person inside sleeping … that’s a combination for disaster.”

As they pulled out of the station he saw smoke billowing.

“That always tells us it’s a pretty good sized fire.”

In his 22 years as a firefighter, Wallace has been to hundreds of scenes. He’s helped free people from vehicles after car accidents. He’s helped transport people after medical emergencies. He’s fought hundreds of fires, some where lives have been lost.

Now, on the way to a fire at his own house, he was worried about his fiancée, LA Grant.

“She’d told me about an hour before she was going to take a nap,” he said. “I called her and she picked up after about the third ring. She said, ‘I’m okay, but the cats are still inside.’”

Neighbors woke her up and alerted her to the fire, then brought her a coat and shoes to wear.

Grant’s parents, who were on their way home from the Tennessee–Memphis basketball game in Knoxville, happened to be nearby.

“Thank God they were there and able to comfort her,” Wallace said. “I wanted to run up and hug her, to make sure she was okay, but I still had a job to do.”

Wallace’s parents also showed up.

The cats were rescued and have recovered. McCool found one under a bed, Wallace found the other one under a night stand.

The department carries pet oxygen masks and they were able to make sure the cats were treated.

The home they’ve shared for two years is a total loss, insurance adjusters said. An estimated three-quarters was destroyed, along with both of their vehicles and their pontoon boat.

Wallace said the fire likely started because of an electrical issue.

Wallace said answering a call at his own home was one of the worst feelings he’s ever had.

“It’s always been somebody else’s house. There are just no words to describe doing that job at your own house.”

It’s changed his perspective and said Grant’s perspective has changed as well.

“It just brings a whole new light to that situation. She works in insurance and she can see a brand new side as well. We didn’t really understand, but now we do.”

The couple has been taken care of by family and friends.

“We don’t need anything. We’re blessed with good family, good insurance. We were able to salvage our clothes and all of our important stuff.”

Echo Day
Author: Echo Day

Echo Day is an award-winning journalist, photographer and designer. She is currently The Leader's managing editor.