Experience was a key element for the East Greenwich Fire District Board of Commissioners in choosing Russell McGillivray as their new deputy chief.
“He brings experience we haven’t had here before,” said Chief Peter F. Henrikson.
And he’s not just talking about McGillivray’s 21-year career in the West Warwick Fire Department, including the last three as a battalion chief.
McGillivray has not only put out plenty of fires in his lifetime, but also spent some time under fire in Iraq during an 16-month deployment in the Army Reserve as a sergeant first class, managing the emergency room for enlisted personnel.
“In Mosul, we were shot at every day. Being near an airfield in the middle of the city, we were at the front door of everything,” he said.
McGillivray was later assigned to Al Asad, a remote outpost in Anbar Province, where some of the war’s heaviest fighting took place.
“We were taking in a lot of casualties,” he said of the trailer hospital he was stationed at before returning home in October 2007.
The worst nightmare he faced, however, came at home eight years this week: The Station fire, in which 100 clubgoers died after on-stage pyrotechnics ignited flammable materials along the walls and ceiling.
“I was a captain, and was called to respond from home. I got there a half-hour after it started, and was helping pull live victims out of there. A lot of us just stayed on into the day shift the next day. That was probably my worst night as a firefighter,” he said.
His smile returned, though, when talking about his favorite professional memory.
“I once delivered a baby on a kitchen floor. The mom felt the pains, called, and we figured we had time to get to the hospital, but she had it right there,” said McGillivray, who decided at age 12 to pursue a career in firefighting.
A West Warwick native, he graduated from West Warwick High School in 1984. He then earned his associate’s degree at Community College of Rhode Island and bachelor’s degree at Providence College, both in fire science. He lives in Coventry with his wife Beverly and five children.
McGillivray began work in East Greenwich Feb. 7, filling a deputy chief’s chair that had been vacant since last spring, when former chief John McKenna retired and Henrikson, then his deputy, was named acting chief. Following Henrikson’s promotion to permanent chief in November, the commissioners set out to fill the deputy chief’s position. Nineteen candidates applied, and seven were interviewed, said Henrikson.
As deputy, McGillivray will be responsible for the department’s day-to-day operations and manage emergency medical services, training, rescue billing and grant writing.
“It’s definitely a more administrative role than I had in West Warwick, where I was running a shift. Now I have to blend the hands-on experience with administration,” he said.
McGillivray plans to emphasize fire safety as the largest part of his training duties. “These guys do a tremendous amount of training already,” he said.