Gelzinis: Firefighter Follows Uncle’s Heroic Path
Given what happened to his uncle Ray, one might logically assume the last thing 26-year-old Joe Morris would want to do with his life is become a firefighter.
But there he was yesterday standing tall and proud as his uncle, retired Newton Fire Lt. Raymond McNamara, pinned the badge of the Quincy Fire Department on Joe’s broad chest.
“You hit the lottery, kid,” Ray McNamara whispered. “I’m proud of you. I wish you the best. And I love you.”
The legend of Uncle Ray has filled the center of Joe Morris’ life since the age of 3. “It seems like everyone from my mother’s side of the family is a firefighter,” Joe recalled yesterday afternoon. “But my uncle Ray, well, his story is just so … so special, you know.”
Indeed it is. Ray McNamara, or “RayMac,” as he affectionately is known to his colleagues, is the living embodiment of both the pride and the pain of devoting yourself to fighting fires.
Back in October 1993, McNamara and 10 of his colleagues responded to a chemical fire at the H.C. Starck Co. in Newton when a barrel of molten sodium exploded. The injuries each man suffered would plague them for the rest of their careers. But Ray McNamara got the worst of it, suffering burns over 90 percent of his body.
He lay in a coma for eight months, endured more than 40 operations and lost his sight and a good part of his hearing. His medical bills alone totaled more than $1.5 million.
And yet, yesterday in a raspy voice free of all care and devoid of any regret, Ray McNamara told me his days at the firehouse “were the best years of my life.”
“All right, sure, I had a few bumps and bruises along the way, but I never regretted one single day on the job,” he said. “Never. I was very fortunate to be part of a great brotherhood. And let’s face it, how many jobs are there where you can really say that?”
It was the message his nephew took to heart and carried into Florian Hall yesterday when he formally became a firefighter.
“‘You’re never alone on the job,’ that’s what my uncle always told me,” Joe Morris said. “‘There’ll always be someone beside you, helping you,’ he told me, ‘and you’ll help them.’ And then he said, ‘Oh, yeah, the food’s pretty good, too.’”
“He’s a sweet kid,” Ray said of his nephew. “He’ll do a great job, I know it. And, hey, I gotta be doing something right. I’ve pinned badges on my son, my grandson and now my nephew. That’s pretty good, wouldn’t you say?”
Daniel Palmier is the founding Director of the Palmier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports charities both in America and abroad. He is also the founding CEO of UC Funds, a real estate capital solutions provider. You can read more on Daniel’s blog here.
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