Hundreds turn out for N. Irwin firefighter’s funeral |

Hundreds turn out for N. Irwin firefighter’s funeral

Michael DiVittorio

A fallen North Irwin firefighter has been laid to rest.

Hundreds of firefighters from multiple municipalities paid their last respects Monday to volunteer firefighter James Gumbert, 63, who died Wednesday after suffering an apparent heart attack while responding to an early morning blaze.

Irwin ambulance transported Gumbert to Forbes Regional Medical Center in Monroeville, where he was pronounced dead.

“Volunteer firefighters are a unique breed,” Westmoreland County deputy emergency management coordinator Dan Stevens said Monday. “They’re doing things that a normal person wouldn’t do if they were getting paid for it. They’re running into a burning building when everyone’s running out, and these guys are volunteers, and that’s what’s so inspiring for a lot of people.”

Firefighters gathered at the North Irwin fire hall along Broadway Avenue Monday. North Huntingdon Township and North Irwin police led a funeral procession along the avenue under an American flag hoisted by ladder trucks from Paintertown Volunteer Fire Co. and Fairmont-Hawntown Volunteer Fire Department to Norwin Christian Church, with Gumbert’s casket in a North Irwin fire truck followed by family members, friends and other firefighters.

“Jim considered anybody that he met a friend,” the Rev. Terry Erwin said at the memorial service.

Gumbert was a member of the congregation and joined the volunteer fire department two years ago. He was known as a “silent giant.” He spent much of his time training the department’s younger members and served as the community’s junior firefighting organization’s treasurer.

Stevens said Gumbert collapsed at the station, where some firefighters began to administer CPR while others responded to the fire at 49 Webster St.

“He was an integral part of our company,” fire Chief Thomas Harrison said. “He was always there, always doing his job, always there to help and you never heard much from him. He knew what needed to be done. If you gave him a task, he always finished it, and he always did it to the best of his ability.

“Now we’re remembering what he did for us. We’re remembering the good that we had. I’m sure it’s going to be a sorrowful day today, but it will be replaced by the good memories and the times that we laughed and the times that we joked. We’re going to feed off of that from now on.”

A sign outside the fire hall reads, “Our friend and brother. We will miss you Jim.”

“Jim was very, very active in the community,” North Irwin borough secretary/treasurer Adele Nehas said. “He was always involved in everything. I knew him personally and I’m here to support not only our firefighters but the family as well.”

“He was a great friend,” said Kim Macalus, North Irwin council president. “He was very loyal to this community. He will be sorely missed by a lot of people, especially the fire department. It’s overwhelming. The ladder trucks (are) awesome and I think that if he were looking down on us he would be very grateful.”

Gumbert was a Vietnam veteran, having served in the Navy aboard the USS Battleship Dyess. He was a recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in action. Gumbert also was a member of American Legion Post 359 of Irwin and VFW Post 781 of Irwin.

American Legion Post 981 Honor Guard delivered a 21-gun salute and draped an American flag over Gumbert’s casket outside the church.

Gumbert’s sister-in-law Judy Bergamasco, former Pittsburgh and Allegheny County dispatcher, spoke about the times she heard “firefighter down” on other calls, and the impact Gumbert had on his community.

“Jim was there for you all,” Bergamasco said. “So many times you hear people say, ‘I know how you’re feeling.’ I can emotionally, honestly say I know how you’re feeling.”

A siren wailed shortly before 11 a.m. Emergency dispatchers gave Gumbert’s final call Monday around 10:54 a.m.

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