Murfreesboro Fire Rescue Department says goodbye to beloved assistant chief

MFRD assistant chief retires after making history
Posted at 6:24 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 07:50:37-05

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — It was an opportunity that fell in her lap. After she was laid off as a factory worker, Kaye Jernigan applied for a job at the Murfreesboro Fire Rescue Department in 1988.

“Then this just came open and I thought ‘I’ll put in, probably won’t get it but I’ll try,’” Jernigan said. At 23 years old she was hired as a firefighter.

"When I first started there were no women clothes," Jernigan said. "So all of my clothes were the men’s clothes.”

At the time, there were only three women working at the department, each on different shifts. Over the years, she climbed the ranks while finishing her degree, at times juggling three jobs at once.

Now 33 years later, Jernigan is retiring as assistant chief of operations while making history — she was the first woman promoted to that position in the department.

“When I got the position I was extremely happy, yes," Jernigan said. "It was a long hard road to get here.”

For more than a decade, she oversaw nearly 250 department personnel.

“I was born and raised here in Rutherford County and that has been a blessing to be able to go out and serve the people that I grew up with,” Jernigan said.

But her service will continue as Emergency Operations Manager at her alma mater, Middle Tennessee State University. It’s a job she says will still have her working alongside her colleagues at the fire department.

“But I have been here most of my life," Jernigan said. "I’ve grown to love the people that work here so it is going to be very difficult to walk away.”

Jernigan's last day at the department is Thursday. She begins her new job on Monday.