In honor of International Firefighters’ Day on May 4, we are recognizing some of our amazing active and volunteer firefighter families who are an integral part of the Firehouse Subs system, a restaurant brand founded by former firefighting brothers Chris Sorensen and Robin Sorensen.

Franchisee Robbie Carroll owns and operates one Firehouse Subs with business partner, James Blake, in addition to overseeing operations over the other restaurants in the greater Knoxville, TN area. Robbie became a Franchisee last year after retiring from the fire department he served for 26 years. Read on to find out what serving his community as a firefighter means to him.

What or who inspired you to become a firefighter? 

Becoming a firefighter was always a childhood dream of mine. Back in the ‘80s, I remember running down to the front of the subdivision every time I heard the Federal Thunderbolt sirens used to alert firefighters of a fire or other emergency.

What is the name of the department you work for and how long have you served the organization?

The Rural Metro Fire Department. I served for 26 years and recently retired last year to become a Firehouse Subs Franchisee. 

What’s your favorite part about being a firefighter? 

My favorite part was the comradery around the station, sense of community and making a difference in someone’s worst part of their day.

What’s your favorite part about being a Firehouse Subs franchisee?

Being a Franchisee is fairly new to me but it’s been great to be able to experience both sides of Firehouse Subs. When I was working part-time at the fire department, I remember Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation helping us out including a donation of a new thermal energy camera. And now with me being on the franchisee side, I enjoy being part of the reason why the local stations receive donations and equipment. 

What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Most people don’t know my nickname at the fire department. My nickname was Tattoo, which ties back to a reality show from back in the late ‘80s called Fantasy Island. There was a little, short guy named Tattoo - our Fire Chief was 6’5 and I’m and 5’6 and one day he called me “Tattoo” and it stuck.

What’s your favorite Firehouse Sub?

Club on a Sub™ - no changes! 

What was your proudest moment as a firefighter? Biggest accomplishment?

One of my proudest moments being a firefighter was having the opportunity to go with my department to New York in March 2002 to assist in delivering a brand new Tower/Ladder to FDNY Station 35/14 after the collapse of the World Trade Center. Additionally, my biggest accomplishment was being extended the opportunity to follow my childhood dream in becoming a firefighter and receiving the offer of a full-time position with the department I have so much love for. I can honestly say I have accomplished what my dream was set out to do and fulfilled it to the best of my abilities. I hope I made the community proud! 

What are some words of advice or encouragement for future firefighters?

Listen to your superiors, work hard, train hard and enjoy the job.

What is one thing that the general public is not aware of about being a first responder, firefighter, etc.?

It’s important to remember that first responders are just like every other human.We have emotions and feel the pain of those we help. We are affected by the incidents and if we seem like we are not showing emotion, it’s not because we don’t care. After finishing a shift at Firehouse Subs, I showed up to a pediatric cardiac arrest call. I was one of a few onsite to help during the incident and afterwards, the older sibling hugged me and said “thank you for helping my brother.” Moments like those really stick with you. 

Are there any similarities between being a firefighter and a franchisee? If so, what?

There are so many similarities between the two but one that comes to mind is FAMILY. For our franchise in Knoxville and the surrounding counties we are one big family, with several employees that have been with our franchise for anywhere between five to ten years. One may think that two or even five years is not a long time, but in the restaurant industry most employees are out seeking that starting point and not a long term career. We treat our employees like family and they do the same in return. They are all treated as an extended part of our family and are shown the utmost respect and care. This is the same at any fire department. We are one big family and if you cross one you better be prepared to cross them all. Just like at the fire station or Firehouse Subs, we are all in this together and it takes a team to serve our customers. Whether it's putting out their house fire or feeding their hunger, it takes a team's effort to complete it and do it correctly.

Tell us about the first time you had Firehouse Subs.

It was in June or July of 2006. My partner and I were working on the ladder truck in West Knoxville and had been in communication with my current partner and co-Franchisee, James Blake, and began to build that relationship. We would make weekly trips to the restaurant and soon enough his family was coming to the fire station to have dinners.

How did you get interested in franchising?

When I began working at Firehouse as a part-time employee, I was just trying to find some work to supplement my work at the fire station. Once James and I started to build a strong business relationship, he made an offer for me to come join him and I couldn’t refuse it. I never thought I would have left the fire department to come to Firehouse Subs but now I am the Chief of Operations over 9 restaurants and own the Crossville location in Crossville, TN.