CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Conway firefighter Christopher Ray, who was killed in the line of duty after being run over by a fire engine while responding to a house fire on Hickory Circle.
Now, for the first time, the chief and sergeant of the Conway Fire Department sat down to talk about that day and how the department has worked to move forward.
It wasn't easy for either of them to talk about the day that changed their lives and the department forever. However, they hope by sharing Ray's story that no one will ever forget him.
"They gave us a ride to the scene and we got out of the rig," Sgt. Troy Hutchinson said. "We were walking up to the guys. They turned towards us and firefighter Drew walked up to me, and I just said, 'Who was it?' and he said, 'It was Chris.'"
Firefighters with the CFD were responding to a house fire and trying to maneuver the truck to reach a fire hydrant down the street.
That's when authorities said Ray fell off the back of the truck and was run over as it reversed.
Conway Fire Chief Le Hendrick said time seemed to stop.
"I really had to calm myself down because I've got to keep this crowd - not just the firemen, but the public that's gathering - at bay," Hendrick said. "Not to mention this house is literally burning to the ground."
Authorities launched an investigation to figure out how Ray ended up under the wheels of the truck. That unanswered question went to the grave with the beloved firefighter.
"There's a few seconds we don't know what happened, and I think that haunts a lot of us," Hendrick said. "We don't know those few seconds. We interviewed all the witnesses. We talked to all the parties involved, and nobody knows in that couple of seconds exactly what happened. It plays in my mind every day what we could have done to prevent it and what could we do to help make sure it doesn't happen again. And I don't know what the answer is."
It was a moment in time that forced some to leave the job.
"We lost two men that day," Hutchinson said. "One of our brothers was operating the vehicle and he hasn't been back."
Still, for those who have stayed, the past year has brought more light than darkness. These brothers in fire now hold close the coins that remind them of their friend.
They remember Chris specifically for his jokes and playfulness.
"He said, 'Chief I got something to ask you and it's important,'" Hendrick said. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, where is this going?' He had the most serious look on his face. He walked up to my desk and just stood there and shook his head and I was like, 'What is it?' He reached in his pocket and goes, 'Chief, you got your challenge coin?'"
For those in the fire industry, a challenge coin is always carried. If a fellow firefighter catches one of his brothers without theirs, they are owed a drink.
"There was a real big push after the funeral, people wanting one, probably lost their challenge coin," Hendrick said. "I probably had 10 requests that day. And I bet if you went to anyone in this station right now, they'd have it in their pocket, which is pretty awesome because he [Chris] had his in his pocket the day he died."