Former Glendale Fire Chief Gray Crabtree was honored with a plaque dedication ceremony in front of Fire Station 151 on May 26. Firefighters, dignitaries, retirees, family and friends gathered at the station for a small ceremony to celebrate his legacy.
Those who spoke during the ceremony referred to him as innovative and commended his commitment to putting citizens’ needs first.
“He was very active in the community, very outgoing,” said Vice Mayor Ian Hugh. “A way you could describe him: You have two fire trucks, identical fire trucks, but only one of them is turbo charge — that was Gray. He was turbocharged.”
Gray died in May 2020, but his legacy within the department lives on. His granddaughter’s husband is a captain with Glendale Fire, and his son, Glenn, is the deputy fire chief with the Mesa Fire Department.
Glendale’s current fire chief, Terry Garrison, continued with the fire truck analogy, and said Gray built a fire truck and station that was so perfect, all Garrison had to do as chief was change a tire every so often.
“If you’re willing to take charge of people, be willing to take care of people. And I think Gray Crabtree did that better than anybody I know,” Garrison said.
“He was from a generation of fire chiefs that are just the most special group of people in the world because every innovation that they’ve made, every idea they had, did two things: increased customer service capabilities and kept firefighters safe.”
Gray quickly climbed the ranks after he began his career with the department in 1961. He became fire chief in 1973, was appointed as the public safety administrator for the city of Glendale in 1932 and was reappointed as fire chief in 1986.
After committing years of service to the Glendale Fire Department, he retired in 1989.
“He believed in customer service delivery, he believed in the fire department doing whatever they had to do to get in there and save lives, and he was very innovative. So were all these people here,” Glenn said, fighting back tears as he spoke about his late father.
When Gray became chief, the fire department looked very different.
Glendale’s population is more than 200,000. When Gray became fire chief, the population was 22,000 and his team had eight firefighters, 16 reserves and two captains covering 9 square miles.
One of Gray’s accomplishments as chief was sponsoring a bill to have the first Arizona State Paramedic Program in the early 1970s. Glendale, Phoenix and Tucson were the first fire departments to complete the program and have paramedics deliver service to their citizens.
Glendale eventually became the first department to have two paramedics on every engine, which provided advanced life support and saved countless lives.
It is now standard practice across the Valley to have two paramedics on all fire trucks.
During his time as chief, Gray created the first hazardous materials team, banned smoking in fire stations and fostered the fire smoke alarm walk within the community.
His work bettered the Glendale Fire Department and other departments throughout the state. His contributions helped save many lives.
“My dad loved this city,” Glenn said. “He absolutely loved the city of Glendale. He loved the citizens. He believed in service and innovation. Innovation doesn’t happen without the support of everyone involved, and the impacts are seen on a daily basis. The number of lives saved and the amount of property saved can’t be calculated, can’t be written down, but it happens every day. I witness it every day from Mesa all the way here to Glendale.”
To end the ceremony, Capt. Ashley Losch, Glendale Fire Department’s public information officer, thanked the crowd for coming to honor Gray and encouraged everyone to continue his legacy.
“This is an important day for us to pay homage to Chief Crabtree. He really was an innovator in our department. In fact, I think he is probably the most innovative chief that we’ve ever had. He did some amazing things, not just for the Glendale Fire Department but for the Valley,” Losch said.
“So let’s keep innovating. Let’s keep moving forward in the spirit of Chief Crabtree.”