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Person of the Week
Chris Murray Retires from NHFD After Four Decades of Service
Chris Murray retired from the North Haven Fire Department on July 30, having worked as a career firefighter for 41 years. (Photo courtesy of Chris Murray)
Throughout his 41-year career as a firefighter, Chris Murray has seen a lot change, particularly when it comes to firefighters’ safety gear and technology. He remembers his gear included a “thick raincoat” and 3/4 rollup boots when he was hired by the North Haven Fire Department in 1980 instead of today’s full gear with air packs. He and his fellow firefighters rode on the back tailboard on trucks with open jump seats instead of today’s fully enclosed trucks.
When Chris started, there were five—at the most—firefighters on a shift at a time. That number has nearly doubled with at least nine on every shift today. In addition, he has seen an increase in the medical responses and movement to having paramedics who can provide advanced life support.
“I’ve lived through all of that and it’s crazy to think back and realize how different things are now,” says Chris. “Our personal protective equipment is 100 times what it was when I started. Some days I think 40 years ago is forever and other days, it feels like yesterday. In 1980, I didn’t think I’d be working here in 2021. I see the new guys coming on and wonder if they’ll be here 40 years from now—that’s 2060.”
While there have been many changes and improvements over the years, there are several things that haven’t changed. Chris’s favorite things about firefighting remain the same: “the adrenaline of it” and being able to help people.
“You get to help people and see people start to have a better day,” says Chris. “When the fire department comes, as bad as the day is, it’s starting to get better because we’re fixing something, putting a fire out, helping at a car accident, or helping with a medical call.”
Chris’s love for being a firefighter goes beyond the actual job. As a career firefighter, Chris has spent 25 percent of his life with those on his shift. Leaving that part of firefighting behind will be the hardest part of retirement for Chris.
“I consider the people I work with on my shift my family members. We eat meals together, we help out at each other’s houses—those are my brothers, without a doubt,” says Chris. “It’s called a firehouse for a reason. We’re there. We’re family.”
Chris was first drawn to firefighting by his biological brother, who was a volunteer firefighter when they were young. His brother began as a junior firefighter in 1972 and three years later while still in high school, Chris joined as well.
From the moment he joined, Chris “fell in love with every aspect of it” and knew he wanted to pursue becoming a career firefighter.
As a high school junior, Chris joined the Coast Guard, attending boot camp between his junior and senior year. After graduating, he attended a machinery technician school in Virginia, which he enjoyed as he had always enjoyed mechanics and figuring out how things work.
After school and as part of the Coast Guard Reserves, Chris began looking for a job. He jumped at the opportunity to apply to an opening in North Haven in 1980 and was excited to be able to serve his hometown.
“I wanted to be in North Haven, but firefighting jobs were hard to come by at that time,” says Chris. “When I got the job with North Haven, I knew it was where I wanted to be.
“Joe Neleber was my first lieutenant and taught me more about firefighting than anyone could. He was always able to tell you what to do and how to do it,” he continues.
Starting his career in the 1980s, Chris remembers the early days of the AIDS/HIV epidemic. When COVID hit, it was reminiscent of Chris’s early days and gearing up to treat patients with a disease that then had many unknowns. He also remembers taking similar precautions when anthrax was a big threat.
Chris has also seen the support that comes with the challenges the fire department has faced. While he has always felt support for the fire department from the public, it became very apparent during COVID and after 9/11.
“The Fire Department doesn’t shut down, no matter what is going on,” says Chris. “Our operations to the public remained the same during COVID with crazy precautions and we had great community support. After 9/11, there was incredible support for fire service for a couple years.”
The North Haven Fire Department also aims to serve and support the community beyond responding to emergencies. Chris has always enjoyed Grill Safety Day, which is generally held in early summer. In addition to treating visitors to hot dogs, there are demonstrations for the public about how to handle different situations that could occur while grilling.
For more than 20 years, the NHFD’s union has sponsored a bicycle helmet program that delivers a helmet to every 1st grader. The students are then invited to the firehouse where they can have their helmets properly fitted. Chris, who has always been active in the union, was president of the union when that program was founded.
With the union, Chris served on the committee that negotiated the collective bargaining agreements for more than 30 years. He spent five years as union president and 10 years as vice president.
“I always took my role very seriously because it impacted the families of the guys I worked with and you were in charge of standing up for workers’ rights and the safety of the guys,” says Chris. “Rip Keller taught me tons with the union in regards of how to act and stand up for the right things.”
Outside of the firehouse, Chris remains grateful to his family for their support. He credits Stacy, his wife of 32 years, for being “a great mother” to their two “wonderful kids”—28-year-old Sarah, who is a dean of teaching and academics in Newport and 27-year-old Christopher, who is a cloud engineer for Aetna and lives in Bristol.
While Stacy is not yet retired, Chris plans to spend more time enjoying his passion for antique cars and hot rods—he has one of each. He enjoys participating in cruise nights and working on his cars. Once Stacy retires, the couple hopes to travel and eventually enjoy grandkids.
“I was already a firefighter when we met, so it’s been her life, too,” says Chris. “She knew how to take care of the things at home when I was working. She’s a phenomenal woman and my biggest supporter.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .