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Labor Day Profile: Byron Gray, New Rochelle Fire Fighter

Gray has spent 28 years with the New Rochelle Fire Department.

Byron Gray loves his job.

In October, he will have spent 28 years as a New Rochelle fire fighter.

Gray still remembers his first day on the job.

He went through eight weeks of training, but unfortunately, it was during a drought so there was little training actually done with water.

"My first morning, before eight o'clock, we got a call of a car fire," Gray said. "It was on East Main Street and it was a fully involved Volkswagen with a titanium engine."

He explained that the metal burns very brightly and reacts to fire.

"There were sparks and heavy smoke all over the place," Gray said. "It started off very exciting."

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Later that day, a young man was hit by a car on Pelham Road "and the kid is twisted like a pretzel with the catalytic converter on top of him burning his leg." he said. He had to call on his emergency medical training skills for that one.

And on the second day there was a fire at the College of New Rochelle.

This is an occupation Gray calls "the greatest job in the world."

"Job satisfaction is very high," he said. "You are helping people and seeing results.

"You are making a difference in people's lives," Gray said.

He was born 58 years ago in Picayune, MS. He and his family moved first to Arizona and then, 50 years ago, moved to New Rochelle.

Gray has a wife of 30 years and two daughters—a nurse, 27, and a college student studying engineering, 18.

He was a full-time bartender at Dudley's listening to the stories told by fire fighters when he was talked into taking the test to become a fire fighter.

He was doing other random jobs during the day, but was looking to do better for his family by getting a job with a pension, benefits and job security.

"Fortunately, I did well on the test," Gray said.

His schedule is 24 hours on duty with 96 hours off duty.

"We end up with a 42-hour work week," Gray said.

In his time away from the firehouse, he does carpentry work.

"But only because in order to live in New Rochelle, you have to have extra income," Gray said, "and to pay for kids in college."

There is down time on the job, which is filled with training, maintenance of equipment and fire inspections.

He acknowledges the mental and physical stress the job doles out on fire fighters.

"On average the projected life span of a fire fighter is 10 years less," Gray said. "There's lots of physical stress, being exposed to toxic situations, extreme heat and extreme cold," he said.

"Even if there's not much going on, you never know what to expect," Gray said. "You've got to be ready."

He also serves as president of the New Rochelle Uniformed Fire Fighters.

Gray said that the prospect of becoming a fire fighter was exciting, but he didn't immediately become passionate about it.

"The passion developed after I got the job," he said. 

Saving a life, saving someone's property, extricating someone from a car means something to all the fire fighters.

"Somebody's life is better because of what you did," Gray said.

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