PITTSTON — It was a day for remembering as first responders and dozens of friends and family gathered Thursday to celebrate the lives of Leonard Insalaco II and John F. Lombardo.
The two firefighters — Insalaco, of West Pittston, and Lombardo, of Pittston — were tragically killed while battling a blaze in the business district of Pittston the night of March 15, 1993.
A special Mass was held at St. John the Evangelist Parish to commemorate the 25th anniversary of that tragic evening.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” said West Pittston Fire Chief John Hood. “It’s tough.”
Hood was just starting out with the West Pittston Fire Department the night of the deaths, while current Pittston City Fire Department Chief James Rooney was an assistant chief with Pittston at the time.
Rooney said it’s still difficult to talk about what happened.
“You live with it,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words.”
The commemoration began with the laying of a wreath at the Firefighters Monument at the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Water Street.
Afterward, first responders made their way to the parish for the Mass, which included a donation of goods to the Greater Pittston Food Pantry by the West Pittston and Pittston City fire departments.
Father Joseph Elston, pastor of St. John the Evangelist, spoke about how it’s good to remember tragedy despite the pain it brings.
“Tonight brings a lot of mixed memories, I’m sure,” said Elston. “But they don’t all have to be sad. They can be very, very happy memories of life, service and dedication.”
Councilman Michael Lombardo said he looked up to his older cousin, John Lombardo.
“I’m an only child and he was a big brother,” Michael recalled. “He was always somebody I looked up to. At that point, I wasn’t involved with the fire service and I remember when it happened, everybody said he was missing. I didn’t know that was a euphemism, like he probably wasn’t going to be coming home.”
Michael said it was his cousin’s heroics that inspired him to become a firefighter himself.
“I try to look at the good that came out of a very tragic day,” he said. “His loss and his sacrifice has inspired so many people. Two of his brothers are in the fire services, two of his nephews are in the fire services, and that was a crossroads for me in life and that’s something that definitely inspired me to do what I do.”
While Michael buried a cousin, Leonard Insalaco had to bury a son.
He recalled learning of his son’s death.
“Well, we first knew something was wrong listening to the radio chatter on his scanner,” Insalaco said. “We heard there were two firemen injured, and then two firemen were being transported to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. We didn’t think there was anything more serious wrong until 8:00 that morning when the chaplain and fire chief knocked on our door.”
Leonard worked in emergency response, and his son followed in his footsteps starting as a forest firefighter.
“He just loved helping people,” Insalaco said.
After 25 years, it makes him happy that both his son and John are still remembered fondly by the community and first responders, as evident by attendance at the Mass.
“It was a beautiful tribute,” said Insalaco. “The service, the number of firemen that attended, the participation was far beyond the two hose companies that he belonged to. These guys have been most supportive forever.”
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher