When his wife suggested he get involved in more community activities, Jack Gallagher’s first thought was he wasn’t the type to join the PTA.
So, when a business associate suggested he join the local firehouse Gallagher said he was struck by the thought.
A half-century later, the 86-year-old Gallagher is known around the Hauppauge Fire Department as “Big Daddy,” a larger-than-life personality and former captain and lieutenant who is a four-time line of duty recipient of the department’s Firefighter of the Year Award — not to mention, a recipient of the New York State Senate Volunteer Firefighter Award and multiple unit citation awards for his work as a department firefighter and EMT. He still answers calls with the department’s police squad.
The department will honor Gallagher for his service at its annual installment dinner Saturday in St. James.
“He’s always been a very enthusiastic man and very much a father figure to anybody and everybody who came into the department,” Hauppauge Chief of Department Kenneth Furuno said. “He always made you feel welcome, always had positive messages and he never complained without warrant … He’s always trying to make sure things get done the right way.”
Joined in 1972
Born in Brooklyn, Gallagher, who’ll turn 87 on May 28, moved to Hauppauge in 1967 — joining the department as a volunteer in 1972 at the urging of his wife, Dorothy. The two, who’ve have been married 64 years, have two daughters, Phyllis and Rosemary, and five grandchildren.
“I’d been in a lot of firehouses in the city,” Gallagher, who built a career in sales marketing hydrants, valves and all sorts of water and water pressure equipment, said, “and when it came to being a volunteer, well … I think a lot of people had the wrong idea about what it was about. A fire is a fire. It doesn’t care if you’re paid or not. We’re no heroes, but we are volunteer professionals and we work as a team and we have great, great people doing what we do.”
For much of his volunteer career Gallagher was an EMT, who also instructed on CPR and the use of the Jaws of Life. He ran marathons and turkey trots, was a fanatic weightlifter who always made sure to stay in shape. Hauppauge Fire District spokesman Edward Giannelli said Gallagher often impressed fellow firefighters by holding an ax at arms length — using just his fingertips.
Current Chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners in Hauppauge, Scott Munro, whose grandfather Jack helped found the department back in 1931 and whose uncle, Bobby, was the second-ever 50-year member of the department, said of Gallagher: “Me, going in as a 16-year-old, he gave me guidance. Basically, he told new members right from wrong like your parents did … He always gave you his opinion, whether you liked it or didn’t like it, and he was always there as a mentor to a lot of guys.”
Helped deliver baby
During his career Gallagher helped deliver a baby girl and once helped save a motorcyclist who had been gravely injured in a moment straight out of the Evel Knievel playbook — trying to jump a parked flatbed truck on his motorbike.
“I was having lunch,” Gallagher recalled of the 1987 incident, “and this woman comes running into the lunch place and she’s screaming that this guy tried to jump a truck in the yard. I went outside and this guy’s bleeding from his right hand and all the arteries and I’ve got no bandages to stop the bleeding.” Thinking on the fly, Gallagher improvised padding and a tourniquet.
He still has a thank you plaque from the biker’s mom hanging on his wall.
“I missed Easter and Christmas over the years, but I’m proud of all I’ve done,” Gallagher said. “And I’m proud of the group of guys we’ve had and the group of guys we’ve got coming in, because they really care and take it seriously … I never thought I’d make it 50 years, since I was older when I started. I’m looking forward to the next 50.”