Firefighters from around the region salute as the body of Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sacco is brought into the funeral home. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn) (Sun Journal photo by Andree Keh

 

OXFORD — During his tenure as fire chief in New Gloucester, Gary Sacco was the boss.

“Depending on how people were faced with Gary, they could come up quick and say, ‘He’s just a gruff man,’ and he was, on the professional front,” said New Gloucester Fire Capt. Scott Doyle,  a longtime colleague, neighbor and friend of Sacco.

“On the personal front, he had one of the biggest hearts of anyone I would ever know.”

Sacco, 63, died Sunday  in Portland after experiencing a medical event near the Holiday Inn by the Bay on Spring Street an hour before  a service for Berwick Fire Capt. Joel Barnes was to begin.

While Sacco was the boss, he had his share of bighearted, joyful moments.

Sacco’s big heart shined when dogs entered the fire station. Doyle said it was common to see Sacco on his hands and knees, greeting every dog that wandered into the department. Sacco kept a box of treats at the back of the station.

“You could instantly see Gary’s demeanor change,” Doyle said. “For 30 seconds, he became Gary again. Then he’d go back to being chief.”

Sacco started his career as a call company firefighter in South Portland in the 1970s. He joined the New Gloucester Fire Department in the spring of 1996, rising up the ranks, from lieutenant to deputy chief.

He was hired as New Gloucester’s first full-time chief in 2007, and retired from the New Gloucester Fire Department in 2015. He then began a short-lived retirement in Florida.

“That grew old really quick on him because he wanted to be up here,” Doyle said. “These are his people. Along with his wife, Sandy, it’s where his family is, and all his friends. For them to be away from that, and see what’s going on up here, I know it ate at them enough to say, ‘Let’s go back home.’”

In June of 2017, Sacco was hired as the Oxford fire chief. Current Oxford Town Manager Butch Asselin said Sacco brought much-needed expertise and stability to the department.

“He was the right person at the right time,” Asselin said. “The Fire Department was going through some turmoil, and he brought everybody back down to earth. He was able to get everyone working together, and now he’s got a great department.”

Asselin said Sacco was hired as fire chief a few months before Asselin was hired as town manager.

“The interim manager, Rebecca Lippincott, did a real good job of hiring Gary,” Asselin said. “He was such a rare find. I wish I could have taken the credit for it. He was just a remarkable individual.

“I’ve worked with a number of fire chiefs in my time, and Gary is by far the best. He brought a lot of things to the table, and he genuinely cared about the people that worked for him.”

Doyle said a core tenant of Sacco’s leadership was family — inside and outside of the station.

“As far as leadership goes, Chief Sacco’s main thing was ‘everyone goes home,’” Doyle said. “We train safely, we train appropriately so that we can all go home to our families.

“Same thing when the tone goes off. We respond appropriately, professionally, we do the job at hand, we do it as methodically as we can so that we can all go back home to our families. Family was always number one from him to us; meaning, don’t go on the call if you have a sick kid at the house. It was always family first.”

Doyle described Sacco as having an open door leadership style.

“His office door was always open for us, on a personal level or on a professional level. So was his home door. I know there’s a handful of us here that have worked with Gary since his beginning at New Gloucester Fire and Rescue. We all experienced that.”

Doyle said Sacco’s expertise and guidance left a tangible, physical legacy with the New Gloucester Fire Department. Sacco was instrumental in the construction of the town’s fire station.

“As we outgrew our two smaller fire stations in New Gloucester, he and a couple of committees worked very hard to provide a space where we could train and maintain our vehicles,” Doyle said.

“We have a facility here that will take us into the decades to come, because of his vision for what our needs would be as a community  moving forward,” Doyle said, adding Sacco’s extensive knowledge of heating and cooling systems and of building layouts helped him keep contractors on track during construction.

In 2013, Sacco, after  years of planning, was able to establish New Gloucester’s first private EMS service. The town had relied on United Ambulance to transport patients to Lewiston.

Doyle said Sacco was utterly devoted to fire service. He had two scanners running at his house, no matter what time of day. Doyle, who lived next door, could hear the scanner in Sacco’s garage as it blasted across the neighborhood.

A testament to that devotion was Sacco’s decision to jump back into firefighting.  Doyle said going back into any department to be a chief is a hard job, but Sacco lived for it and thrived doing it.

“He’ll be remembered  as an honest and progressive chief who deeply cared for his personnel and the fire service in general,” said Chief Michael Thurlow of the Scarborough Fire Department, who was a friend of Sacco.

“He always wanted to make sure everyone did the right thing, ethically. He was just a very caring individual.”

Doyle said Sacco’s knowledge, expertise and leadership will leave a void in a community already reeling from loss.

“It’s a hard hit. I really don’t feel as though the Maine public safety (community) has quite processed the loss of Capt. Joel Barnes,” Doyle said Monday. “And before you can complete that process, you’re into another significant loss.

“We’re here for Oxford, because that’s their chief. Now Oxford is also here for us, because they know that we’ve lost one heck of a leader and someone more than a friend yesterday.”

Gary Sacco

Oxford Board of Selectmen Chairman Scott Owens, right, congratulates former Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sacco after he was sworn-in in 2017.  

 

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