PITTSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Wednesday marked the anniversary of a dark day in northeastern Pennsylvania firefighting history.
Two volunteer firefighters were killed while battling a huge center city business fire.
As Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller explains, the fallen firefighters’ legacy helps shape the community they served to this very day.
Flowers are placed this time of year at the Firefighters’ Memorial on Kennedy Boulevard to remember two firefighters taken way before their prime.
On March 15th, 1993, just two days after the blizzard of ’93, flames ripped through Pittston’s business district.
Two volunteer firefighters, 25-year-old John Lombardo and 20-year-old Leonard Insalaco II, entered a burning building. They never made it out.
Lombardo’s death came three months before the birth of his nephew, John.
“How much did your uncle’s service inspire you?” Hiller asked.
“Completely,” said Lombardo.
Named after his uncle and the man who was supposed to be his godfather, Lombardo has been a firefighter now for a decade, following in his namesake’s footsteps.
“Everything that he did in that moment somehow still overshadows everything I’ve done and what a lot of other people have done,” said Lombardo.
Jim Zarra recalls driving along North Main Street during the early morning hours that fateful day and seeing fire and smoke filling a snowy, icy center city.
“I didn’t know but I knew it really wasn’t good the way it looked. And it was sort of an eerie kind of feel to it,” said Zarra.
He soon found out the fallen firefighters were familiar names.
“This is sad for anybody that’s in Pittston but knowing the both families the way I do, it’s even a sadder occasion,” said Zarra.
Some say the loss of firefighters Lombardo and Insalaco helped galvanize this community; that in some way it inspired others to make this city better.
Fallen firefighter Lombardo’s brother, Pittston Mayor Michael Lombardo, helped lead city revitalization in his current role and others.
“Something always is a motivation for a beginning, and you know, I think that was part of the beginning when you consider how passionate especially Mayor Lombardo is about the job that he’s doing in bringing our city back to life,” said President of the Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce Michelle Mikitish.
And then there is a metaphor of sorts near the Firefighters’ Memorial monument, flowering trees which an emotional Zarra points out.
“When it starts to bloom, the city feels like it’s being reborn,” said Zarra.
A lasting legacy of two brave men whose community promises will never be forgotten.
A memorial mass will be held to remember firefighters Lombardo and Insalaco.
Eyewitness News will have that for you tonight at 11:00 p.m.