Brandon Murray, the town’s 2015 Firefighter of the Year, was just 14 when he first became involved with the Public Safety Department through the Explorers youth program.
He grew up near two eastern Wake fire stations and as a child would get excited every time an alarm went off, no matter what the time of day or night.
When he turned 18, he started working as a volunteer firefighter. Knightdale hired Murray, now 22, as a full-time firefighter in December.
Murray knew he wanted to go into a profession where he could help people. When he first started working with the department, public safety officers served as both firefighters and police, and he was interested in police work as well.
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But after the town department split into fire and police divisions, he went with his first love of firefighting.
“When we see people, it’s on the worst day of their lives,” Murray said. “Somebody’s dying. Their house is burning down. It’s really to be able to possibly help them in their time of need.”
He works with a three-person shift, including a captain and a lieutenant. He generally rides backward on the truck on calls, which firefighters call the “back step,” but he earned his state driving certification last year and will sometimes drive if a captain is on vacation.
On medical calls he is responsible for about 80 percent of care.
His shift works on a cycle where he works three 24-hour days in a five-day period, and then he will be off for four days.
But he often spends his off days from Knightdale filling in for firefighters in the Bay Leaf and Stony Hill fire departments, sometimes pulling 24-hour shifts there as well.
“One thing you hear about fire service is it’s a brotherhood,” Murray said. “You spend one-third of your life with them,” he said, not even counting the hours he works outside Knightdale.
Murray said that with long hours spent in close quarters with his co-workers, arguments can be common, but they know that they will support each other when it counts.
Most of his friends are fellow firefighters, he said, and it can be hard to keep up with other friends because of his schedule.
During his shift, daytime hours not on calls are spent doing inspections and office work, as well as working to stay in shape.
“Really what the difference is is somebody with a regular job may go home at 5, and we stay,” Murray said. “There’s a work day and then a time when we can go to sleep.”
There’s a misconception, he said, that firefighters spend all day watching TV and cooking, but in Knightdale, at least, “it’s not that way.”
It sticks with you
The toughest part of the job, Murray said, is dealing with the sometimes horrific situations he must respond to: “Some of the things we see, it sticks with you.”
But in these terrible situations, he looks for what he can do to ease the pain.
When a family has lost everything in a fire, he said, sometimes a small thing like an old photograph that was saved can bring a lot of joy.
Fire Chief Tim Guffey said when Murray was a volunteer, he stood out for the training hours he put in and call responses he logged, and that he has continued to work hard since being hired full time.
“When you invest the time to train and develop yourself like Brandon has, it’s going to show,” Guffey said. “He invested in himself and it shows when we’re out there doing the things we do.”
The department also recently recognized volunteer firefighter Jermone King, who was the top volunteer for the year in both training hours and call responses. It is the first time in the 13 years the department has recognized volunteers that one person has been tops in both categories.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826