Eagles Nest holds “push in” for new fire truck

Fire chief celebrating 50 years of service

by Nick Wognum
Eagles Nest Fire Department chief Larry McCray is marking 50 years of being a firefighter.
McCray started his career in Michigan when he was 18 years old.
“I started with my local volunteer fire department right out of high school,” said McCray. “It’s kind of funny, I joined the fire department a month before I got married so I remind my wife of that sometimes, I’m still with the fire service.”
McCray served 30 years in the same department in a Brownstown Township 10 miles south of Detroit, achieving the rank of captain. The township served 32,000 people in a 32-square mile area. The department had 3,800 calls a year.
In 2000 the department went from volunteer to career. McCray left his job as a operations manager for a trucking company to realize his lifelong dream.
“I told my wife this is always what I wanted to do,” said McCray. “And she said do what you want to do.”
With a 50 percent cut in pay and longer hours, McCray had no regrets. He was also teaching fire classes at a local community college.
McCray retired in 2014 and bought a motorhome, travelling with his wife to 49 states over a year’s time.
Their next move was to Ely and more specifically Eagles Nest Township.
“We had been to this area because we had volunteered at the Bear Center. We were doing that during our vacation time. My wife worked 24 years as a 911 dispatcher with a police department.”
The couple worked with Dr. Lynn Rogers and at the Bear Center.
The McCrays live just down the road from the fire hall and one day Larry heard the fire trucks at the hall. His wife urged him to go over and “meet the guys.”
He came home with an application and his wife reminded him he was retired.
“I said, Look, they do 30 calls a year. I do that in three days in my old job,” said McCray.
So in September of 2015 McCray joined Eagles Nest FD. In October he was offered the training officer position. In November he became assistant chief. Two months later, in January, the chief left and the board asked him to be chief.
“I said okay,” said McCray.
The Eagles Nest Fire Department relies on a group of 15 volunteers.
McCray said no matter the size of the department it’s important to keep people involved and excited about being a firefighter.
“The people I have are good, they’re committed, dedicated and excited about what we do,” said McCray.
He said the department has a number of professionals and they’re all willing to do the job.
“I have a great deal of respect that those professionals have the respect to do the job,” said McCray.
For McCray, he and his wife spend the summers working with black bears, logging the bears and their size, reporting the information gathered back to Rogers.
“That’s what we do. That’s what we came here for. We see a lot of wildlife,” said McCray.
McCray said he was proud to help start an emergency management program at Eagles Nest.
“So now we have ENCEP, the Eagles Nest Committee for Emergency Preparedness.”
The group did a live evacuation drill with just over 100 people evacuate in 34 minutes.
“Every road in this township with the exception of 169 is a dead end road,” said McCray. “So every road has a road ambassador and that person’s job is to notify the people on their road when to evacuate and what to do.”
The road ambassadors were issued radios with weekly tests of the system.
“If we get an emergency in Eagles Nest all I have to do is key the mic and say area whatever, ‘How’s your road look? Is there a problem down there? And I know in a matter of a few minutes the condition of each road in the township,’” said McCray.
The group meets once a month to talk about firewise, brush pickups, evacuations and other topics.
Last year the group replaced 60 fire number signs in the township for homeowners.
“This year we’re ordering 100, new posts and new signs,” said McCray.
Thursday night the Eagles Nest Fire Department held a “push in” of a new fire truck.
Behind the wheel of the truck was 50-year fire department veteran Chief Larry McCray.