Beyond the Call of Duty

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Some people are born for a crisis. James Grega is obviously one of them. The 64-year-old has worked as a starter, receiving and processing visitors, at the same Midtown building since 1984. But his role as the site’s fire safety director and emergency action plan director means that, on occasions, he has gone well beyond the call of duty.

During the blackout of 2003, Grega manned the lobby entrance for 72 consecutive hours.

During the blackout of 2003, James Grega manned the lobby at 1155 Sixth Ave. for 72 consecutive hours. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

During the blackout of 2003, James Grega manned the lobby at 1155 Sixth Ave. for 72 consecutive hours. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

“There was nobody who could come in [to replace me],” he said. “People were sleeping in the lobby camping out—people with kids who had nowhere else to go. It was a real crisis. We did what we had to do.”

In his attitude and upbringing, Grega is a true New Yorker. Born and raised in The Bronx, he still lives in the Throgs Neck neighborhood. He grew up alongside seven sisters—an environment calling for a calm head. The recent widower has two adult children, a 36-year-old son who serves in the New York City Police Department and a daughter, 40, who’s a full-time mom. Between them, they have given their father five grandchildren.

Grega first worked in car body repair and then as an insurance inspector before arriving at 1155 Sixth Ave., between 44th and 45th streets. The 41-story building, which houses offices for prominent companies such as Verizon and the Wall Street Journal, has been his second home ever since.

“It’s a commercial building with a lot of law firms and high-profile companies, but the people are very down-to-earth,” said Grega, who has the same appreciation for his colleagues. “I like working with people and the people I work with here are very nice. We all get along well—it’s like a family. We have a great team.”

Grega has been active in the union for almost the entire time he has worked in the industry, serving for 10 years as a shop steward, or a liaison between the union and members.

“I’ve always stood up for my fellow workers and enjoyed doing it,” he said.

Building manager Tom Butler, 43, who is Grega’s immediate boss, believes the long-serving employee has the ideal temperament for the job.

“He’s very well suited to a position like this. He has a very even keel and doesn’t fly off the handle,” he said.

Butler believes this is crucial today more than ever.

“I think that after 9/11, tenants appreciate security a little more than before,” he said.

Grega has a similar view of his responsibilities.

“The key to my job?” he said. “Taking responsibility for people’s safety. People look to somebody to take responsibility for their safety in today’s climate.”

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