'Irish Brigade' member McCormack retires from 30-year career with Johnson City Fire Department

Becky Campbell • Jul 2, 2013 at 7:34 PM

Tom McCormack is a man on the run — literally — and even though he retired Friday from a 30-year career at the Johnson City Fire Department, he has no plans to slow down.

In fact, the 59-year-old is setting records. It’s something he’s been doing since his teens, when he was the fastest runner in his homeland of Ireland. For McCormack, there’s just something about the idea of getting beaten by a younger man, or woman for that matter. He’s one of a group of Irishmen recruited in the early 1970s by East Tennessee State University to run collegiate track. The group became known as the Irish Brigade, and it might have been a foretelling of McCormack’s eventual career in a fire brigade.

When McCormack stepped off the plane in September 1973, he came attired in clothing for Ireland weather — a three-piece suit and overcoat — but soon found he wasn’t dressed for East Tennessee weather.

Still, McCormack always felt he fit right in here.

“East Tennessee is basically made up of Scots Irish, so I guess I fit in,” he said as he reflected back on his life in America.

It wasn’t long until he met the woman who would become his wife. Teresa McCormack retired last year from her career as a speech pathologist with the Carter County school system, so now the couple can travel to visit their three grown sons.

While at ETSU, McCormack majored in criminal justice. After graduation he married Teresa and soon obtained his citizenship. That paved the way for him to start a career in law enforcement. After a few years at the ETSU police department, McCormack served four years as an officer with the Johnson City Police. He soon learned he could make a lateral move to his first love — the fire department.

“There’s always been a history of Irishmen coming over here and becoming police officers or firefighters. I did both,” he said. “I’ve always had a need to serve. I’ve been blessed living here. It was a great job, but it was a way of giving back also.”

McCormack still has his hand in the fire service. He was appointed in August to a six-year term on the Tennessee Fire Commission. The nine-member panel is responsible for firefighter training guidelines for the state and also conducts fire training and testing.

McCormack stayed true to the thing that landed him in America — running. Just last year, he broke the 5K state record for his age in the Turkey Trot. Just a couple of weeks ago he broke the 8k state record for his age and still runs a five-minute mile — just one minute off his time as a 17-year-old.

“I enjoy the competition,” he said.

“I really enjoyed working at the fire department. I’m going to miss all the people I’ve worked with over the years but I’m not going to miss getting up in the middle of the night to answer calls,” he said.

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