Friday, December 24, 2004

Hail to the chief! Firefighters gather for holiday...

From the Youngstown Vindicator on 12/24/2004.

Six years ago, the fire chief brought back this Christmas tradition.

YOUNGSTOWN — Thanks, boss! No, thank you!

So it went in the gleaming upstairs kitchen at No. 1 Fire Station on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Firefighters, inspectors and retirees filtered in and out Thursday to enjoy Fire Chief John J. O'Neill Jr.'s annual Christmas luncheon.

The kitchen-dining area was used to exchange hugs and handshakes and "Merry Christmas" greetings.

O'Neill was the official cook. Being Irish, he fixed meat and potatoes.

Capt. David Leetch did prep work. (It's not really work, he confided).

O'Neill said he baked a 12-pound ham bought at Santisi's Riverbend, in the former Passarelli Brothers building on Mahoning Avenue. The store even sliced it.

He used a family ham recipe "everyone knows": ginger ale and brown sugar. He also made parsley potatoes.

Pizza, too

A reporter wondered about all the pizza boxes stacked on tables.

"Oh, we made the pizzas," Leetch quipped. "We asked Pizza Joe's for the boxes to put them in."

The fire chief joked that "no P.O.'s" (purchase orders) were involved; he pays for the appreciation luncheon. He said the annual event gives him the chance to thank firefighters for the hard work they do all year long.

Firefighters from all sides of town arrived at staggered times, station by station, so that the city wasn't left unprotected.

O'Neill said he usually starts cooking around 10 a.m. but a fatal fire in the city was reported at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, while he was changing his 3-month-old son James' diaper. He went home after the fire to change clothes and started cooking at 8 a.m. at No. 1 Fire Station.

No one ate until Mike Drummond, a retired firefighter, arrived with his specialty, sausage and peppers. Battalion Chief Tim McGarry's homegrown peppers, canned in vinegar by firefighter John Carbon of Rescue Squad 33, were also a favorite.

"This is really nice," Carbon said of the chance to visit with colleagues. "We don't get to see these guys much, or some of the retirees."

Chance to mingle

McGarry, pointing to the south side of the Mahoning River, said the luncheon gives firefighters over there a chance to mingle with firefighters stationed on the north side of the river.

"They may not run into each other, otherwise," he said. "It's nice to get together."

Fire Inspector Leslie Murphy said she appreciates the chief's gesture each year. She's also glad no one asks her to cook.

"I think it's great to for him to do this, to show appreciation for what we do," firefighter Joe Caraballo said as he lined up for Christmas goodies. "It shows the holiday spirit — it's nice to have a boss like that."

Capt. Gary DiTullio expressed best what the firefighters said: "We get a chance to thank him, too. It's kind of a mutual thing."

Firefighter Jamie Goodlet called the luncheon "outstanding."

O'Neill, fire chief since 1998, said he brought back that year what had been a Christmas tradition. He said the last chief to hold a chief's luncheon was Charles P. O'Nesti, who retired in December 1983.

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