As a procession of firefighting vehicles led by a bright yellow fire truck made its way up Highway 20 toward Nevada City Tuesday afternoon, more fire trucks and fire personnel lined each overcrossing.
The salutes and flashing lights were a tribute to Nevada County Consolidated Fire Division Chief David Ray, who was retiring from firefighting after a 39-year career.
“I’m just very humbled and blessed to have had a career in Nevada County, where I grew up,” Ray said. “I owe this community everything.”
Ray began working as a volunteer firefighter in 1973 with the Nevada City Fire Department, at the age of 16.
“They had a junior program,” he explained. “I joined the 49er Fire District at 18 — I wasn’t able to come into it until I was 18 ... The old-timers took me under their wing — it was just awesome. I knew from that point what I wanted to do.”
Ray was named fire chief at 20 in 1978; at the time he was the youngest fire chief ever in the state.
He became a paid firefighter in 1986 and subsequently held the position of battalion chief from 1991 through 2003, when the 49er District merged with Nevada County Consolidated.
“I was one of the first career guys in the county,” Ray said. “I learned from the best of them.”
He continued as the training battalion chief through March 2012, winning credentials as a state fire service instructor, helping to create the Nevada County Training Officers Association, and acting as a fire technology instructor for Sierra College since 1997.
He also developed and implemented the district’s firefighter internship program, providing training and necessary work experience to dozens of young fire service trainees.
“It’s hard to have that many years and have that many relationships, so many friendships ... it’s very tough to leave,” Ray said.
“I give the firefighters a lot of credit in the county,” he continued. “They’re the boots on the street that get the job done, and I’m going to miss all of them.”
Ray said he plans to continue teaching; work on his golf game; and try to incorporate some traveling with his wife, Vicky. Even though he officially retired Tuesday, he’ll be on the job over the weekend, teaching vehicle extrication at the North San Juan Volunteer Fire Department.
“I’ll miss the ability to go out and help people — that’s why I started this,” he said. “It’s been fun every day, and every day is different in the life of a firefighter.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
“It’s been fun every day, and every day is different in the life of a firefighter.”
— David Ray,
Nevada County Consolidated Division Chief