McMurray succumbed to a battle with cancer Tuesday at the age of 70. He served close to four decades with Dillingham's Fire Dept. and Crash Rescue Squad, and was the expert engineer who kept the water flowing.
The Dillingham Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad held a ceremonial processional for one its own Wednesday. Jim McMurray, who was a volunteer with the Department for nearly four decades, succumbed to a battle with cancer Tuesday. He was 70.
McMurray came to Dillingham in the seventies as a pilot, flying first for a lodge then for Armstrong Air. He built his career around aviation and had an impeccable reputation as a pilot and aircraft mechanic. But on Wednesday dozens gathered to pay tribute to his 39 years of service as a volunteer firefighter and EMT.
He was truly an unsung hero, says DVFD chief Norman Heyano.
"He is. Whether it was for the fire department or EMS, cause he was an EMT, he always helped somebody. He never turned nobody down, and was very knowledgeable on the fire side of it. We're really going to miss him."
Dillingham’s fire engines and ambulances escorted McMurray’s flag draped coffin from the hospital to the airport Wednesday morning. Along the road, volunteers and community members stood at attention and raised a salute.
Malcolm Wright, the assistant fire chief, has been through thick and thin with McMurray over many years of tough call outs. It was always good to know Jim had your back, he said.
"He was the chief engineer for Engine 3 ... keeping the water supplied, not only initial engineering, but also wrangling complex tanker shuffles to keep water coming for big fires." Wright drove Engine 3 Wednesday with one of McMurray's son's in the passenger seat.
As a volunteer squad, McMurray’s expertise on the equipment that makes firefighting possible was invaluable.
Mayor Alice Ruby is one of many who learned under and served with McMurray.
"He was a great engineer. And as his son said, he was a consummate teacher," she said. "Jim never just showed you how to do something, he had to take you step by step by step. He was going to make sure you had it, every time."
"I think it's really nice to look at this whole age span of people standing here saying goodbye to Jim ... it's a pretty good indication of his participation with the Fire Department," she said.
McMurray joined the Fire Department in 1977, and was one of the main founders of the Dillingham Rescue Squad a few years later. He was the assistant chief for a while in the eighties, and was named firefighter of the year in 2001.
Last year as his health deteriorated and he had to wind down his time with the Department, the city formally thanked and commended McMurray's "tireless service" to the community.
"All these people here will remember how he was there to help them, and there to participate, and I think that's really important," said Ruby. "I think it's a model that we in the community want to show to other residents."
On that drizzly tarmac Wednesday, dozens gathered as the flag draped coffin was unloaded for transport to Anchorage. The Dillingham Fire Department presented two U.S. flags to McMurray's family.
There may never be a tally for how many fires and emergencies he responded to, how many times he volunteered to go help his friends and neighbors in need, or how many cold nights he sat out on the scene when he could have just sat one out. Chief Heyano and many others know exactly the difference McMurray made with his time on earth: he was one who always answered the call.
"There was no hesitation ... he was there ... you could always depend on him that he'd be there. I'm sure that he's going to be watching out for us from up above."
Jim McMurray, #76. End of watch May 23, 2017.
A memorial service is planned Monday, May 29, at 11:00 a.m. at the Dillingham Elementary School.
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