MEDFORD, Ore.– Ray Carrillo, 57, was a volunteer firefighter with Wolf Creek Rural Fire Protection District when he passed away last Friday after falling ill while battling a local fire. While the correlation between his illness and battling the fire is still under investigation, Monday marked the first week his fellow firefighters will be returning to their job with one less person in their ranks.
But the impact this man made on their lives will be cherished forever. In speaking with Fire Chief Steve Scruggs, words like kind, charismatic and a hard worker were used to describe Carrillo – a man that lived and breathed firefighting.
Erasing the number 365 from the district’s accident calendar, Scruggs gives a deep sigh and says, “It’s not 365 anymore is it.”
According to Scruggs, Carrillo devoted his life to firefighting. From knowing every fire district and who was in command to what types of planes were making runs to put out fires, Carrillo was invested like no other.
“He lived it. He loved it,” said Scruggs. “And he died doing what he wanted to do.”
Starting when he was just 18 back in 1978, Carrillo joined the ranks of the Oregon Department of Forestry and worked with them till 1994 when he accepted a position with Grants Pass Rural in Josephine County. For those next 18 years, he served as a wildland and structural firefighter and made his way to fire chief. In 2012, he moved to Wolf Creek to settle down and worked as a volunteer for the district.
With 40 years in the business, Carrillo was known throughout the firefighting community and beyond.
“He would give you the shirt off his back,” said Scruggs. “Never complained, never complained about anybody or anything. He was always there, strong support to help us.”
Everyone he worked with too says Carrillo left a lasting impression.
“When I call him on the phone and he says, ‘Yes Chief,’ you know I’m just like…,” said Scruggs shaking his head with smile. “But it’s like, ‘What’s your assignment?’ So I’ll miss that about Ray.”
With his gear still hanging and his favorite chair now empty, memories of Carrillo are all around. But what cuts deepest is knowing his history and what being a firefighter meant to him.
“I think you know with Ray growing up in foster care he sought for purpose with his life,” said Scruggs.
Raised in foster care in Southern California until he made his move to Oregon when he was 18, Carrillo never had a true family to call his own. According to Scruggs, he has no current or lasting family members that anyone is aware of. That’s why his love for firefighting and sticking with it his whole life was so meaningful.
“We were the family I think ultimately, that Ray was seeking,” he said. ” You know, never really had.”
With that in mind, the thought of removing his gear is tough to bear and the district may ultimately retire his gear for good. But Carrillo’s smile and the love he had for the job still carry on,
there just won’t be a “Yes Chief” answering on the other line.
“He’s definitely missed you know,” said Scruggs. “It’s a struggle.”
Carrillo’s birthday was later this month. He would have been 58-years-old.
A memorial service for Carrillo is scheduled this Sunday at the Wolf Creek Inn at 2 p.m. A GoFundme has been set up to help the district fund the memorial which is being managed by the Volunteer Firefighter Association.
If you would like to donate, you can go to the GoFundme page, Honor the life of Ray Carrillo.
NBC5 News Reporter Miles Furuichi graduated from Chapman University with degrees in English and Journalism. He received post graduate experience in Los Angeles in photojournalism and commercial photography. He also spent time in Dublin, Ireland working in print journalism and advertising.
Miles is a Rogue Valley native, raised in Ashland. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking and photography.