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Hagerstown's firefighter of the year believes in safety first

Murray's team answers call for upgraded firehouse safety procedures

Murray's team answers call for upgraded firehouse safety procedures

February 29, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - Working in one of the most dangerous professions has made Hagerstown firefighter John P. Murray a believer in safety first.

So, when all individual City of Hagerstown departments were encouraged to come up with safety committees, Murray worked up a proposal two years ago and presented it to Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker, who approved it.

At the annual fire department awards banquet Feb. 23, Murray was named career firefighter of the year for his efforts. He said it was a committee effort, not just his effort that earned the award.

"Our goal is to improve the level of safety in the department," Murray said, noting that it has been a tough year and a half.

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During that time, there has been a crushed foot, heart attacks, knee injuries and an ear injury. Some of these have involved long-term recuperations, Murray said.

The committee, which includes union firefighters, volunteers and supervisors, meets once a month. Murray just turned over the chairmanship to Scott Baire.

"We look at injuries to see how we can reduce them," Murray said.

One way is maintaining physical fitness among firefighters. There is workout equipment at the fire department's main office in the Market House, and some individual fire halls have their own treadmills, he said.

"There is a plan for a physical fitness mandate that all will participate in," Murray said.

Another innovation is a policy that no firefighter work alone. If a firefighter is stricken or injured on duty, there will always be another firefighter there to react, Murray said.

Murray, 36, has been with the Hagerstown Fire Department for nearly four years. He and his wife live in Pennsylvania.

Murray said at the age of 10 he envied his older brother when he became a junior firefighter.

"I have always loved riding on a fire truck," he said.

A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, Murray is working on his master's degree in fire service management, taking online courses from the school.

"I got into risk management in college," Murray said.

Coming to work in Hagerstown was his first chance to get into career firefighting.

Murray said he likes Hagerstown but noted there are a lot of challenges for the fire department, including a declining number of volunteers.

Anyone interested may call 301-790-2476 for more information on training and requirements for how many hours are needed to maintain standing.

In the meantime, Murray and his committee will be working to make firefighting a safer profession in Hagerstown.

"Firefighters' wellness is No. 1, and there is enthusiasm for it," Murray said. "Changing people's behaviors is tough but we are up for the challenges."

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