June 18 may be a bit anti-climactic for Greg Ireland as his official last day before retirement.
With some reserves of vacation time, Ireland opted to work his last shift this past weekend and use his paid time off for the remaining few weeks. That didn’t make reality sting any less.
“Walking out on my last day was emotional,” he said during an interview with The Batavian. “It’s definitely been part of my lifestyle. Emotions came in waves. It was the right decision at this time, I’ll have the opportunity to be home with my family … that’s going to allow me more time with my family and my kids. That was the main driver behind it.”
After nearly 23 years as a city employee, Ireland has been a recognizable face throughout the community. He started out as an emergency medical technician when the city owned and operated its own ambulance service. He credits Sept. 4, 1999 as “the best day of my life” for a career move out of radio — and the airplanes and helicopters used for part of his traffic reporting job.
“I actually flew on an airplane for almost two years every morning. I did that for a bunch of stations up in Buffalo,” he said. “It was a great experience, but not what I wanted to do.”
So, an Alexander High School and Genesee Community College graduate, he worked in Buffalo for awhile before making the move. He began as an EMT in 1999, with a background of having volunteered for the Alexander fire department, and a year or two before that, Ireland took a first aid class. The handwriting seemed to be on the wall before a teenaged Ireland took serious note of it. He moved through the ranks from basic to intermediate EMT and then to paramedic. By 2002, he was offered a job as a firefighter, which was a major goal.
Much of it has been about community service, he said.
“I had some family members who are volunteer firefighters and I was interested in that. I actually took a first aid class and I was probably 14 or 15 years old. I join the volunteer fire department in Alexander when I was 16,” he said. “And then I got involved taking the EMT classes and always stayed involved in it, and then in 1999, the opportunity came up to do it. There's a job. Yeah. It turned into a great career.”
The Batavian asked Ireland to name a few scenarios about …
The most surprising thing about being a firefighter: “Just how much of the camaraderie there is of the folks I work with, the family atmosphere. It's unlike any other profession, any other job that I've been a part of before,” he said. “It's pretty special to be a part of the fire department; just that family atmosphere. It's odd, because, people I work with, I know their wives, their families, their kids. You know, it's a little different than a regular office job, per se.”
A scary moment on the job: “I don't want to sound corny, but there's always like, people call us on their worst day. And when other people are running away, we're running in. So it's, I guess, it's always kind of scary, but it's the training and that in the preparation we've had for that we understand what to do and how to handle it. So I never really was scared, just, I was more prepared and handled it.”
A ritual or routine at the start of every day: “When I came to work, whether it was a day shift or night shift, or certain routines we go through, especially as the captain, the shift commander, it was my responsibility to put together the log sheet for that shift: who was working and what position, and that was part of our accountability system,” he said. “So we knew who was assigned to what position and what vehicles and that's when the commander comes on shift, whether it's day or night shift, that's the first thing we do. And then, I always called it ‘walking the floor,’ where I would go out to the vehicles, I would put those assignment sheets in each vehicle and I would get my gear out, set my gear out by my riding spot at engine 11. And get it ready so I could get into it at a moment's notice to go on a call … to give me a sense of okay, if there was a certain vehicle out for service, so which vehicles were we using that day or that night. A routine just so I knew that I was prepared for myself and for my crew.”
A most rewarding time on the job: “Not one specific one, a moment that blew me away. But one of the most rewarding parts I feel that I got to do was being the fire prevention officer. And when I was able to go out into, whether it was the schools or wherever we're doing a fire prevention program, and just have that face-to-face interaction. Especially with the kids. And I hope that would be my lasting legacy that I was able to make a positive impression on the kids, and whether it's to reduce their fear of firefighters or to make them more confident if there was an emergency, so that they knew what to do,” he said. “I always thought I was lucky that I was able to be the fire prevention officer and coordinate those visits with the schools and stuff. And over the last two years, it's been difficult with COVID, yeah, but we've definitely, we got creative with it.”
Lessons you have learned: “That there's a lot of really good-hearted people here in Genesee County, and in this area is incredible. A lot of times we encountered people on their worst day. And something so bad can be going on in their life, but a lot of times people keep a positive mindset. It's incredible. Especially in this day and age, you don't see that too much right? A lot of people are like, something could be going so bad, but they'll be like, well, it could be worse, you know, they put a positive spin on it. And going to the schools, the teachers, the administrators, they're incredible. The work they do for the kids in this community is something else.”
Top two memories that will always be with you: 1. “My first call I ever took back in 1999, in my first day working, I always remember that.” 2. “The year 2009 was a tough time. (The city proposed selling off the ambulance service.) And I was intimately involved with that being the union president at the time. So yeah, it was that transition. Just the way it all transpired. I wish there was more open communication between the city and us at the time. There wasn’t, and we moved on from it.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t recall those many other firefighting situations, he said. There was a time when a woman was hanging out of a window, desperate to get out of the burning home. He could see her head out of the second story window as a ladder was going up to get her out.
“And as we're climbing the ladder, she handed a baby out the window,” he said incredulously.
Ireland also climbed the professional ladder, from firefighter to lieutenant in 2015 and captain in 2018.
“I definitely enjoyed being a firefighter … that was the ultimate goal, to get promoted to the fire department as a firefighter. And on the flip side of that, from the 13 years I was a firefighter to become lieutenant, I really enjoyed my time as a firefighter, and almost thankful for the time I got to spend being a firefighter before being promoted to an officer, if that makes sense,” he said. “Just to be a firefighter, to learn the craft, and to enjoy that part of the job before being, and I was very thankful to be, promoted, but to be a firefighter before being promoted into the management side of things.”
He saw a saying somewhere about a parent only having 18 summers to spend with their kids before they go off to college. That has motivated Ireland to dig even deeper into family life and enjoy his family, including wife Ginelle, and two daughters, Lauren, 10, and 7-year-old Morgan. There will be outdoor gatherings, swimming, fishing, exploring new parks, lots of day trips, a yearly trek to the Adirondacks and a couple times a year in Florida, he said.
“And it doesn't seem like a lot. But I I know from when I was a kid, how busy my parents were,” he said.
Now for the exciting part of his story, as Ireland more fully launches the business he purchased in January. It began around this time a year ago when he began to talk with Jim Russell, a former City Councilman who owned Southern Tier Fire Extinguisher. Russell was planning to retire, and Ireland saw another opportunity, he said.
“I purchased the company, the assets, the equipment, the inventory,” Ireland said. “I wouldn't say a name change is out of the question in the future … obviously, Southern Tier Fire Extinguisher is because where it originated was in Wayland. So it just made sense. Obviously, he gained a lot more business in this area and kept the southern tier, and I hope to do the same.”
The business covers the service, inspection and recharging of fire extinguishers. He will also work with fire suppression systems in kitchens, restaurants and automotive fire suppression systems and service bays as well, he said.
“It's crazy, pretty much just the opportunity, that it's been a great career, and I've been so fortunate that, in 1999, like I said, it was the best day of my life to start at the fire department, and I was just lucky to be a part of that,” he said. “My hope is that I did well and it continues with the next generation. The only thing constant is change. And the people change and I'm sure they're gonna do great at it.”
Top photo: Captain Greg Ireland of the City of Batavia Fire Department at this year's Memorial Day parade; and posing with his family when he was sworn in as lieutenant of the city fire department in 2015. His daughters are "super excited" to spend more time with dad now that he has retired from the City of Batavia Fire Department, he says. Submitted photos.