With a strong background in leadership, technology, communications and public safety, Ray Hasil was an obvious fit for his current position as director of Mason-Oceana 9-1-1. Though he is not native to West Michigan, he and his wife and three daughters have lived in Pentwater since 2001, and he has made himself an essential part of the community.
Born and raised in the Chicago area, he is a 1987 graduate of Oak Park River Forest High School. There he played drums with the symphony orchestra and enjoyed the amazing experience of traveling twice to Europe with the orchestra, including concerts in Venice, Salzburg Austria and the Vienna Concert House. He also played football for a couple of years and was involved in theater production. “We learned lighting, sound and sets,” he says, and though he never personally met well-known actor Tom Lennon (Reno 9-1-1 and other roles), who was at his high school, Hasil worked on a production of Grease in which Lennon acted.
Hasil was a huge Chicago Bears fan and worked at Soldier Field during high school so he could see the games and get autographs, including an autograph from Walter Payton. “I actually stood where I could see the players run out onto and off the field, and the first two games I worked were when the Bears played the last two playoff games that led them to the Super Bowl in 1985,” he reports. With a laugh, he adds, “The whole place was electric when they won, and the police were ready for a riot. I was standing at the tunnel on the field level. The crowd surged toward me, and there was so much pressure from front and back that my feet were dangling in the air.” Fortunately, he was not hurt.
Hasil attended Southern Illinois University for a year after high school before enlisting in the Army in 1990 to help pay for college. “It was one of best decisions I ever made, because the Army helped me mature and focus better on what I wanted to do in life,” he notes. He served as a gunner, controlling the main gun, and shot guns for training. “I was always good at video games and a lot of the training for tanks is by video, so I did well at it,” he chuckles. In May of 1991, he was deployed to Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. He is now a lifelong member of the Pentwater VFW Post 6017.
Upon his return to the U.S., Hasil received an associate of science degree from Triton College in River Grove, Ill., and his enthusiasm as a personal computer hobbyist landed him a job as a temporary field technician for United Parcel Service (UPS). He worked with UPS for five years, first as a UPS external systems field technician, servicing shipping systems at customer locations, and later transferring to UPS Professional Services, Inc., a small consulting group where he developed technology solutions for clients.
Asked how he came to Pentwater, he recalls, “I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic going to work one day and was doing the math as to how much time I spent in traffic. It got me thinking about a close friend of the family who we visited here in Oceana County for weekends and vacations, and I thought how wonderful it would be if I could find employment up here somehow.”
So, having met Dayna Lamb, a Pentwater girl who is now his wife, in 2001 he moved here. Initially, he lived on his savings from UPS and what he could make repairing computers, and the couple got married in April of 2002.
Hasil also served as a volunteer firefighter, and then in June of 2003, he started working part-time as a telecommunicator and has been with Mason-Oceana 9-1-1 ever since. “It was a good fit for me,” he says. “My wife’s father, Don Lamb, was the first police chief in Pentwater, and a lot of her family also worked in public safety. My work as a volunteer firefighter gave me some idea what this work was, and I was looking for a job to make a career. I loved it.”
Even so, the first day he worked totally by himself on a busy summer day, he recalls, “When I left the center, I could tell my blood pressure was up, and I was exhausted. It’s not easy when you get so many calls, and you’re the first person someone is speaking to after a tragedy has happened. Some people here have done this work for 36 years, and you just have to find a way to process those things in a healthy way.”
In 2013, when there was a vacancy in the director position, Hasil got the job. His past leadership experience enabled him to spearhead approval of a new millage request for Mason and Oceana counties. He has also been influential in creating a partnership with Newaygo County Central Dispatch, and implementing a system where all 9-1-1 calls for eight counties come through the system housed in Pentwater Township, providing more affordable technology for everyone.
“I’m running the business end of what’s involved in a 9-1-1 center,” Hasil explains, “including personnel, budgeting and staying current with modern best practices for center.” He recently went to an interesting expo about the future of 9-1-1 and heard about a new fire protection association standard for fire service radios that are more likely to work if a firefighter becomes trapped in a structure fire. “Two San Francisco firefighters went through the floor of a building,” he relates, “and they died of exposure to heat. Their radios were not usable because the cord to the extension mike melted. So, the new standard is for tougher radios and accessories.”
Hasil, his wife and three daughters live in her childhood home right across from the Pentwater Schools and down the street from the fire department where he is assistant chief. The house had been sold to a relative in 2006, and they bought it back in January 2018. His two oldest daughters not only work at Cosmic Candy in Pentwater, where Dayna also works, but they are active in sports and other activities at school.
In his spare time, Hasil still enjoys playing the drums, and he and his 16-year-old daughter, Mackenna, recently bought a new electronic drum kit. “I’ve played one-two hours every day since then,” Hasil says. “It is great stress relief!”
He also enjoys making authentic southern barbecue and recently, the Pentwater Fire Department smoked 15 pork butts (about 150 pounds) at the Pentwater Art Fair as a fundraiser for Chief Paul Smith, who has been dealing with cancer. They raised over $6,000, including donations made.
Hasil reports that he has never regretted moving to Pentwater, though he misses his family and the great restaurants in Chicago, and he remains an avid Bears and Cubs fan. However, he is passionate about his work here with 9-1-1 and the fire department and, in addition, he says, “Three of my high school friends are now up here too,” making Pentwater even more like home.