Retired fire captain remembered as a father, friend, 'firefighter's firefighter'

by Jeff Saunders | reporter Published:

Macedonia -- Being a firefighter was more than just a job to Dan Gagliardi.

"He was a firefighter's firefighter," said Macedonia Fire Chief Tim Black, who served with Gagliardi for 25 years. "Dan would wash every fire truck in the station if I asked him to, but he did not like paperwork. He was not an office guy."

Gagliardi, who served on the city's fire department for more than three decades before his February 2009 retirement as captain, died Dec. 2 at his Eileen Drive home. He was 54.

City Council observed a moment of silence in his memory at the start of its Dec. 13 meeting.

Ruth Gagliardi, his wife of nine years, said he died of a heart attack in his sleep.

"He was always there," she said. "About a year-and-a-half ago, I had a stroke and he rushed across the room and stopped me from falling and hitting my head. He saved my life and it breaks my heart I couldn't do the same for him."

Mayor Don Kuchta said he was saddened by Gagliardi's death.

"Danny was always one of the nicest and most respected of men," he said. "No one ever had anything bad to say about Danny. It's a loss."

Gagiardi told the News Leader when he retired that he became a firefighter "to pay back a debt" after his parents' home was destroyed in an explosion and fire in 1966 and the community helped the family with donations of food and other necessities.

"I never wanted to be a firefighter anywhere else but here," said Gagliardi.

While a junior at Nordonia High School, Gagliardi got his start as a cadet with the department's Explorer program under then-Fire Chief Carl Stewart in 1975.

"Carl would call me out of school to go fight fires," said Gagliardi.

After his graduation in 1977, he worked for a time in the city's service department until he completed training and was hired as a firefighter in 1979. Other than the chief, he and another man hired with him were the department's first full-time members.

Stewart, who died in 2008, retired in 1989 and Gagliardi was appointed acting fire chief in 1992. He held the position until Black was appointed in 1995, with Gagliardi becoming the department's captain. Gagliardi said he preferred it that way and Ruth Gagliardi said her husband did not seek glory.

"He ran from the cameras," she said. "He never wanted recognition. He just did it because he wanted to help people."

Black said there was no friction when he became Gagliardi's boss after serving under him for three years.

"He never had a problem with it," he said. "We worked so well together and he taught me so much."

Indeed, Black said it was Gagliardi who got him into the fire service in 1983 when Black was working a summer job with the city's parks and recreation department while studying engineering at the University of Akron.

"Dan loved the job," said Black. "When you see someone with such enthusiasm, it helps push you along."

As an example of Gagliardi's dedication, Black said that he could recall times when Gagliardi would go out on fire calls, pumping water at the trucks while sick, but refusing to leave.

"That was something we all got from Dan. He saw doing this as a privilege," said Black. "That's something I always pass along to new firefighters, this is a privilege."

Ruth Gagliardi said that since her husband's death, she has heard from people grateful for the help he gave them, including saving their lives over the years.

"Dan was the most selfless person I ever met," she said. "He'd help anybody who needed it. If he saw a car stuck in a ditch, he would stop and help."

She said he was also a terrific father, not only to his son William from a previous marriage, but also to his stepdaughters Jessica, Rachel and Brittany.

"He was awesome," she said. "He was the love of my life. My knight in shining armor."

Kuchta said he had known Gagliardi since the 1970s when Gagliardi became a regular customer at the Sunoco service station Kuchta owned on the corner of routes 8 and 82.

"I saw Danny on his motorcycle all the time. That was his passion. He loved his Harley," said Kuchta.

He said that Gagliardi also enjoyed playing Santa Claus for the city every year. His last appearance was at the Macedonia Family Recreation Center's Breakfast with Santa Nov. 17.

"Every year, he and his wife were the greatest Mr. and Mrs. Claus," said Kuchta.

"I'm going to miss him," he added.

Black said Gagliardi and his wife often played Santa and Mrs. Claus for a good cause, such as charitable organizations. He said Gagliardi showed a similar dedication in that role as he did as a firefighter.

"He would sit on the Internet and study toys, toys, toys, toys, toys so that when kids talked about them, he would know what they were talking about," said Black. "That was important to kids, that Santa knew what they were talking about."

At his retirement, Gagliardi talked a little about what his time with the department meant to him.

"It's been so much more than a job," he said. "It's made me a better person, helping people. It's been a blast."

email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9432

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