In the last week or so, but most especially in the last two days, many have asked me “Who is Joe Gallagher?”
Joe is the man for whom we named our third son- Casey Joseph. This is how much this man means to my family.
Joe retired as a Battalion Chief from the Camden (NJ) Fire Department after an exemplary 20+ year career.
I first met Joe in the late 1990 when I was taking Firefighter I at the Burlington County (NJ) Fire Academy. He was an instructor for several topics- one I can remember vividly was HNA’s (hose, nozzles and appliances) and SCBA. He was also a supervisory instructor/stoker for several of the live burns. I can remember one burn in particular where he really tore into me for standing up too much inside the burn building during live fire. Eventually I figured out on my own not to do it anymore when he stoked up one fire a little bit above and beyond a simple training burn. It burned all right- my ears, shoulders and neck. I was known as “the kid from Pennsylvania” as I was the only one from Pa…….Because Burlington County ran the class not long after I joined the fire company when I was 16, and also because they allowed Junior Firefighters to go interior for training. I don’t think this is done anymore. At the graduation ceremonies, all of the instructors congratulated us, and I can remember Joe in particular shaking my hand and saying “I can see you going places in this business; you have it in your blood.”
A few years later, my close friend Joel Bain was hired onto the Camden Fire Department. He was assigned to Engine Company 9 at 27th and Federal Streets with Ladder Company 3. The first time I went to visit Joel, I was pleasantly surprised to find that “Instructor Gallagher” was “Captain Gallagher”, the boss of Ladder 3 on the same shift as Joel. He immediately recognized me as “The Kid from the other side of the river.” Eventually the visits to 27th and Federal were to visit both Joel and Joe. Whenever the companies would turn out for an alarm, Joe would throw me onto Ladder 3. It was a great experience to a 17 year old kid from a slow volly company in the suburbs of Philly to be riding with an urban truck company on a beat up Mack Aerialscope through the streets of some of the worst ghettos in the United States. Joe, Joel and the other members of Engine 9 and Ladder 3 taught me a lot about firefighting, but more about being a part of the Brotherhood.
In time, Joe took the exams for Battalion Chief, and was promoted. Joel eventually moved on to other companies within the Department, where I would go and visit and spend time, but I also made time to go visit with Joe, who was assigned to Battalion 2.
Joe and I developed a friendship outside of the fire service as well through our mutual love of aviation and airplanes. He was a member of the Civil Air Patrol, and spent a lot of time at McGuire Air Force Base. We learned that we had mutual acquaintances at the McGuire AFB Fire Department.
At the time, Joe and his wife Sue lived primarily in Riverside, New Jersey- but also owned a vacation home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina where they spent a lot of time. Our friendship expanded to the point where Joe and Sue invited me- insisted that I spend time at their place in the Outer Banks. I think my first time there was a long weekend around 1995 or 1996. My trips there became more frequent and longer in duration. Towards the end of his career, before he retired- they sold their home in Riverside NJ and Sue moved to the OBX house full time. Joe made do with a small apartment in NJ and also traveled between the OBX and NJ in between tours at the firehouse.
There are not words adequate enough to describe the enormity of Joe and Sue’s hospitality. I knew Joe to be an incredible cook in the firehouse, but his culinary abilities in his own kitchen with some fresh seafood could rival that of any professional Chef’s. Joe and Sue lived to entertain guests. And woes you if you tried to offer them some money to help out with the groceries for the week. When I met my wife Star, she had never been to the Outer Banks before. When it came time for us to take a vacation together- I think she was somewhat hesitant to go stay with a couple that she had never met before. I explained to her that it was unlike staying with anyone you have ever stayed with before- there is not that feeling of intrusion or being a pain in the ass to your hosts. Joe’s home was large enough that guests had their own “wing” with a bedroom and sitting area with a TV, as well as a large bathroom. Joe and Sue always made it a point to stress that you could “come and go as you please” but would always want to know when you would be “home” so that Joe would know when to make dinner!!!
Their hospitality also extended to their home- the hot tub, Joe’s movie collection, his tools if you needed to do a repair to your car…….. and beach supplies- you name it, they have it. Beach chairs, blankets, tents, awnings, umbrellas, kid’s shovels and pails, and of course- Joe’s kites!!! Joe LOVED to fly kites with the kids. It should never be forgotten that Joe was always a kid at heart. No matter what you needed for your beach trip, it was yours for the taking. And Joe would always educate you on the best beaches to go to and what entrances to use. And woes you if you forgot to “air down” the tires on your 4x4 and you got stuck. Joe would always wag a finger at you as he said “don’t forget to let the air down!” And once in a while, Joe and Sue would join you on the beach if they were feeling up to it.
Joe and Sue were always delighted to see our kids- who were treated as if they were their own grandchildren. There has not been a holiday or birthday since Cody was born in 2003 that the boys have not gotten a card and check. And wow were they spoiled rotten whenever we would visit. There was always too much candy, potato chips, cakes, cookies……Yep. You name it, they had it. I think the week before our arrivals Sue probably spent four days shopping in preparation.
In 2008, Joe received the news that he had stage 4 head and neck cancer. He vowed to fight it, and won- but not without consequence. The radiation treatment severely damaged the soft palate inside his mouth, and Joe could not chew or swallow food any longer as a result. He also received a tracheotomy and this in conjunction with the damage from the radiation made it difficult for him to speak. (Side note: Joe had a love of tending his tomato plants on a daily basis, and between this and his gravelly voice I nicknamed him “The Godfather” which would crack him up every time I called him by this name.) So he fought it, and won. Because he could not eat, he had a peg tube inserted through his belly into his stomach- he would “eat” at mealtimes by pouring a can of liquid into a container which fed his tube. And mind you- this would be AFTER he cooked for everyone. His cancer and the issues that came with it did not diminish his love of cooking for his “crew.” And he kept his Joe Gallagher sense of humor throughout it all- every time he would start to prepare to “eat” his can of liquid- I would ask “So what’s for dinner tonight? Cheese Steak? Lobster? Filet Mignon?” And he would just get that Joe Gallagher shit-eating grin and nod his head.
The cancer did not knock him down. He still had his zest for life and his hobbies. He was a very active member of the Avon Volunteer Fire Department (including being an active firefighter up to about the time that he got the cancer….) well into his late years. Joe was also an avid photographer, and even had a little side business doing photography as well as making custom frames and matting pictures. He was also active in his community being a member of several community organizations. One of Joe’s big loves was his church- he was a greeter every Sunday, and was also a devoted volunteer in the food pantry. Joe was also deeply devoted to his dogs, most especially his “Chief”, a golden retriever who preceded him in death in 2012.
Joe Gallagher dedicated his life to helping people, whether by protecting their lives and property, or by training others to protect life and property, or by being the best host that he could be and sharing his home with others. Joe was pleased when his friends and adopted family members were having a good time in his home, or enjoying his cooking. His smile was infectious when he would watch over his crews chowing down in his home or in his firehouse. No words could ever replace him, and no words can ever harness the feelings that I have for this man and his wife. I can take solace in the fact that he was able to meet the very child that was named for him- And I remember to this day the day that we arrived at their home after the 9-hour car ride, and presented Casey to him. We had not told Joe and Sue what his middle name was to that point- only that he was Casey, and at the time he was about 3 months old. We presented him to Joe, and told him his middle name- and for what may have been one of very few times in his life, Joe Gallagher was speechless. Later, Casey took his first, real honest to goodness long-distance (to a toddler) steps in the long hallway of the Gallagher home. And whenever Casey would pass by the TV room, Joe would get that Joe Gallagher shit-eating grin on his face.
In 2011, Joe began to show some signs of dementia- which got progressively worse as time wore on, and was recently diagnosed as full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. The last 4-6 months have not been kind to Joe, who suffered from several bouts of various illnesses on top of his diminished mental state. And on March 12, Joe was found to be unresponsive and with a fever which was due to aspiration pneumonia. Things went south quickly, and Joe Gallagher left this world peacefully at 4:40pm with his wife Sue, his son Sean, and his daughter Kim at his side, along with his beloved pets.
Joe Gallagher- October 12, 1946-May 28, 2014. Take up Chief, we got it.
Gallagher in Retirement
photos courtesy of Randy Yardumian
|Burlington County Times - April 22, 2014|
GALLAGHER, JOSEPH J.
Joseph J. Gallagher passed away peacefully on Friday, March 28, 2014, at Southern Cape Fear Hospice in Wilmington, N.C. His wife, Susan Gallagher, was by his side. He was 67.
Joseph served in the U.S. Navy as a photographer before spending 25 years helping others as a firefighter in Camden, N.J. He retired in 1999 as a battalion chief. He served with the Avon Volunteer Fire Department in North Carolina for much of his retirement, including time as president.
In 2008, he successfully battled severe throat cancer.
Joe was a member of the Buxton, N.C. United Methodist Church. He is survived by his wife, Susan; his sons, Sean Gallagher and Phillip Langman; and his daughter, Kimberly Barton.
Joe lived life to the fullest and never met a stranger.
A memorial service will be held at a later date in Buxton, N.C. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Buxton United Methodist Church at Hatterasumc@embarqmail.com or the Lower Cape Fear Hospice & Life Care Center at www.hospiceandlifecarecenter.org
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