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The telephones screamed in the recently expanded Maury County Hospital on a beautiful June day in 1977.
Phone call after phone call, body after body streamed into the hospital. People shouted. A smoky smell lingered in the emergency room. Nurses came to work in anticipation of a lazy afternoon and left covered in soot.
One 22-year-old nursing tech helped man the telephones that day. She had worked as a desk clerk for a year, but June 26, 1977, marked her first day working as a nurse tech. She wouldn't graduate with a nursing degree until three years later.
The event remains vivid in Patsy Smotherman's mind, as well as the minds of many others in the community. The fire, started by a 16-year-old runaway from Wisconsin, filled the Maury County Jail with smoke, killed 42 inmates and prompted international media coverage.
It all started for Smotherman with a phone call from Freddie Rich, who at the time served as assistant director of the ambulance service and now serves as director.
"I am bringing in a 16-year-old kid with some burns," Smotherman recalled Rich saying.
He gave his report, ending with "Oh yeah, there will be about 40-plus more coming in."
Info from Mary Bob McClain Richardson. 9/21/2008