Despite having to fire three employees for using cell phones on duty about 90 minutes after the MBTA Board approved his nomination as the T’s GM last March, Rich Davey’s first reality check came about a month later at a fire in Downtown Crossing.

“I was sick as a dog and it happened around 11 at night,” Davey, 37, said. “We were so worried that evening about restoring the system so we could run service the following rush hour morning. It was unclear even at 3, 3:30 a.m. whether we’d be able to do that, but we pulled it out.

“That was a wake-up call to me on the state of infrastructure. We have to focus on that.”

Reflecting on his first year as GM during a wide-ranging interview last week, Davey — who was appointed to his post a year ago today — said the Downtown Crossing fire was a bigger low than the T’s poor winter performance.

Davey also addressed criticism that the T is so broken and debt-saddled it doesn’t matter how dynamic its manager is.

“There’s some truth to that but let me first say that you need to start with a good management team,” Davey said. “It isn’t really about me. I like to say to my employees that GMs come and go but the trains and buses always run.

“Now there’s definitely a capital issue as well and that’s ... something I knew walking in.”

‘Baptism by fire’

Paul Regan of the MBTA Advisory Boards said Davey’s first year was one of the most challenging in a decade given the T’s financial and weather woes. “It’s been baptism by fire for him and I think he’s done very well,” Regan said. “It’s almost as if events conspired to make it as difficult as possible. He’s done very well in really trying times.”

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