First Arriving Network
First Arriving Network

A Chat With Ray McCormack

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Firegeezer notes:  Following is the latest in a continuing series of occasional e-interviews that Laurence (Fireball) has conducted over the years for Firegeezer.

Today she chats with Lieut. Ray McCormack, FDNY, noted fire service instructor and mentor to thousands who follow his classes and his many articles and publications including the ground-breaking Urban Firefighter Online Magazine.

*  *  *Lt. Ray McCormack

Laurence Delorme: Ray, you are one of the two creators and editors of Urban Firefighter magazine,why this name for your online magazine?

Ray McCormack: The name for the magazine came from our desire to cover municipal paid fire departments. Our primary focus that both Erich Roden (co-creator) and I had was big city firefighting and the people who worked there. We went back and forth over names that would convey the focus of the magazine, and in one of those conversations Urban came up. We looked up to see if the URL was available for Urban Firefighter Magazine and it was was so we purchased it. The name Urban fit very well and it stayed. While picking it was simple enough, picking names was an extended conversation because the name of any product is critical. Urban fit the bill as being general and specific at the same time. People who read it would know the magazine's focus instantly.

LD: From your point of view, why is your magazine interesting for the readers?  Compared to other magazines, what are the main advantages of your magazine?

RM:  The unique features of Urban Firefighter was that it looked into the culture of the urban fire service. Tactics, tools, policies, and people are the core of firefighting and the urban environment is where a lot of tactics are born. The numbers of firefighters is not as large as suburban departments but the history is longer. The history and traditions of urban departments filter out to other near-by departments and bring us all closer. Our readers experienced the people of the urban fire world in profile pieces, not of department heads but regularl firefighters that they could relate to. Our authors had experience in what they wrote about, that was critical. Many readers go right to the author's bio and if it doesn't pass muster, then they wouldn't read the piece. That is reality good or bad. While we didn't do bios in the typical fashion we keep them basic and often tied it to the piece specifically our readers knew we only used true authors, firefighters who had passion and experience.

Urban was digital which allowed us to incorporate video and have unlimited page runs. In addition digital is available 24/7 worldwide and the magazine was free. Urban was ahead of its time and incorporated great content and technology. Many of our authors were first timers who have launched training business and are now known lectures. There is so much talent in the fire service that is untapped we were fortunate to discover some real talents.

LD:  Do you think that your experience in the Fire Service helps you to write your articles for the magazine, and how?

RM:  Yes, of course my experience helps me but I think it helps in a different way. It gives me the ability to question ideas and find what works for me and hopefully the reader. While tactics are a big part of the articles I have written over the years in the recent past I have also written articles that were more opinion based. My Tactical Safety columns concern not only tactics but issues in the fire service and how they relate to firefighters. I spend a lot of time reading the fire service news and opinion and it has helped me to see where the fire service might be heading on different topics. It also allows me to assist others with developing a broader view of their world.

LD:  What would you like firefighters to know about the fire service?

RM:  Many firefighters wonder where change come from. Especially where change they don't like comes from. It comes in small doses and from many places. By expanding your fire world you start to better understand who and what organizations are pushing trends and changes. Many of the people pushing for change in the fire service are not even firefighters or have retired from the fire service. It's kind of ironic that people who lived in our boots now find what we do appalling. My question is where was your crusade when you were in the fire service?  I think we have enough people in the fire service who actually understand what the day to day challenges are without outsiders in retirement telling us what's best. The big checks from grants tend to go to foundations, organizations and private entities not fire departments, and that is often shocking for firefighters to grasp. It is not wrong but it is concerning that outsiders have so much control over the fire service."

I think all firefighter need to realize that they are part of a great organization that appreciates and embodies traits and values that are admired by many and possessed by few. We give of ourselves often with a heavy price to protect and serve. The fact that we save lives and preserve property is not some casual trend, it is the backbone of the fire service. When someone tells you that what you do does not matter, that is a lie. Firefighters need to be sharp and ready when the bell rings. Telling firefighters that fires are down and moving them away from their fundamental mission is a mistake that will result in failure to both the community at large and the firefighting community. Keep your focus on saving lives and extinguishing fires as this is what firefighters do and anyone who plays that down apparently has yet to realize no other group can replace a firefighter

LD:  "Keep fire in your life" is one of your favorite mottoes.  Why?  Is there a little story behind it?

RM:  It stated as a good by phrase I used at FDIC. When I was parting company with fellow instructors I would say Keep Fire in Your Life, and it stuck. The beauty of it is that it brings different meaning to different people. To me it means keep your head in the game. Think about our profession when you're away from it so that your ideas can help shape our service.

LD:  Do you think fire training is keeping pace with changes?

RM:  I don't think training is keeping pace in general. I think we need more live fire training for officers and firefighters. I think we need to advance our firefighter basic training to be more real world.  We actually spend course time telling firefighters how to roll up hose. That's like teaching someone how to throw out a garbage bag. Lets get to the core and work out from there, so our firefighters know what to expect. Many firefighters are taught things that are both silly and incorrect. You can not correct mistakes if you do not know what they are. Many see safety as the cure all which it is not because its often misapplied as a stop-action feature when it should be an incorporated task feature.

LD:  Thank you, Ray.

Keep Fire in Your Life Urban Firefighter Magazine can be read online at Ray can be reached at On twitter @LtRayMack


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