On the morning of April 7, 2012, the City of Decaturville lost a true hero.
“My daddy tried to protect and serve and tried to have an open mind,” Michael Fox said. “It didn’t matter if you made $15,000 a year or $300,000 a year, he’s going to treat you the same.”
Kenny Fox served as a sergeant for the Decatur County Sheriff’s Department, the Chief of the Decaturville Police Department, and on the morning of his death he was serving as Decatuville’s volunteer Fire Chief.
Brandon Maness started volunteering on fire department alongside Fox in 2001.
“It can be dangerous. I mean there’s been a lot of times when we was fighting a bad structure fire, especially an interior attack on the fire, where things kind of got nasty real quick. We didn’t know if we was going to get out sometimes, but that was part of it, that’s what we did to help the community and maybe save lives if we could,” Maness said.
But the risk was one Fox eagerly accepted out of his devotion to serving the community.
Maness was serving alongside Fox on the April morning when he would fight his last fire. The fire department was called out to the Oak Hill Café, a local bar and restaurant.
“It was around 3 o’clock in the morning, I guess, we got a call to assist Station 1 at the Oak Hill, Oak Hill was on fire,” Maness said. “When we got there, the whole building was fully engulfed with flames. And of course, we got it out and was just inside doing cleanup making sure all the fire was out.”
Fox was inside the burned café with two other firefighters to check for hotspots when things took a turn for the worse.
“That’s when we believe it was a flash over occurred and the building bust into flames again,” Maness said. “And at that point is when the roof collapsed, and it fell on him and we was unable to get him out.”
Moments before he died, Fox was doing the thing he did best – putting others above himself.
“He actually pushed two of his fellow firefighters out of the way when he seen that happening, pushed them out the door. But he was unable to get out,” Maness said.
The two other firefighters survived, but sustained serious burns to their arms and face.
The fire was later determined to be arson, but the person responsible has never been caught.
“A lot of people, they’ll set stuff on fire to try to collect insurance money or whatever, but they’ve got to think about the people in the community, the firefighters that are going to respond to that fire, you know, and their families,” Maness said. “You know, anytime you set something on fire, you’re running a risk of an innocent person getting killed, never getting to see their family again, or finish their career, whatever. It’s a bad deal.”
Since the fire, the Oak Hill Café has been torn down and a different restaurant has been built on a neighboring property.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is still working to track down the person responsible for setting the fire.
“Fire typically will burn up and out from its lowest point,” TBI Fire Investigator Kenneth Rippy said. “There was some irregular burn patterns that were there at the scene.”
When it comes to solving the case, investigators said there are witnesses they would like to re-interview, who were at the bar the night before the fire.
“There was some stuff that happened the night before and those are the witnesses that we were needing to locate,” Rippy said. “Just people involved, re-interview them hopefully find somebody new that they didn’t locate back during the original investigation that we can interview.”
Tracking those witnesses down nine years later, however, has been difficult.
Rippy explained, “I think the biggest thing for us right now at TBI is time. The time difference between when it originally happened and then up to night now. Some witnesses have passed away, some of them moved out of state, and we can’t find them to re-interview them to get exactly what they know.”
Fox left behind a wife and three sons. Michael, his oldest son, was a volunteer firefighter alongside his father.
Michael said the toughest part of his father’s death is the family he left behind and the family he’ll never get to meet.
“I guess that’s what’s really hard, there was three of us boys and daddy always wanted a little girl,” Michael said. “And I’ve got one, and I believe I have another one on the way.”
Michael said if roles were reversed and a community member had died in the fire, his dad would be the first to step up to the plate to find the person responsible. He asked the community to do the same for his father, who so willingly devoted his life to Decaturville.
“It hurts. Not a day goes by I don’t think about it. I just wish there was something else we could do to figure out who done this, you know,” Michael said. “Somebody knows.”
Both Michael and Maness have left their roles at the fire department since Fox’s death. Michael is now a welder and hopes the job will allow him to return home safely to his family each day. Maness is now a fire code inspector and hopes to prevent other firefighters from being put in dangerous situations.
According to the TBI, the person responsible for setting the fire could face aggravated arson and possibly murder charges. Any information on this case can be submitted by calling 1-800-TBI-FIND.