Friends, Family Remember Community Pillar Mike Garbacz

| December 5, 2019

RENO Pa. (EYT) – The procession of fire trucks escorting the body of Reno Volunteer Fire Chief Department, Mike Garbacz, to be laid to rest in the Reno cemetery was overwhelming, but according to those who knew him, Garbacz’s spirit and generosity were even bigger.

Garbacz worked a full-time job at Joy Manufacturing and still found time to serve his community with the fire department, 4-H clubs and as one of Santa’s helpers. He was instrumental in encouraging young people to become involved as volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

“He was our Chief, he was the chief cook at our fundraisers,” remembers Bob McClintock, Reno’s 1st Assistant Fire Chief. “A lot of times he was the one who ordered all the supplies. He did the grant writing, he was just pretty much the motivation behind everything.

McClintock says Garbacz became involved with the fire department shortly after graduating from Venango Christian High School. The two volunteered together since 1977. They were also coworkers at Joy Manufacturing where Garbacz worked for 40 years.

McClintock remembers responding to major wrecks and fire calls as they did much of the Emergency Medical Service, or EMS, response.

It was a fire at the Penzoil Refinery in Rouseville in 1995 that stands out most in McClintock’s memory. That incident left five workers dead and two injured.

“That was a large scene,” McClintock recounts. “Mike was in charge of that. He was able to get there and get the water supply set up. He got the roads shut down; all the things a Chief has to do to get things done.”

Garbacz organized the tankers responding from Franklin and Oil City that day.

McClintock says Garbacz was a motivating force even beyond the Reno Fire Department.

“We have a mutual agreement with Rocky Grove Volunteer Fire department because of a manpower shortage,” he says. “He was the one who got that created. He was looking at other options to deal with that shortage.”

Garbacz was also involved in other aspects of the community. The Reno Volunteer Fire Department’s Facebook page included comments about how he had been Santa for so many of the community’s children.

His friend Janice, who declined to give her last name, saying this is about Garbaz and not her, remembers seeing him at many community functions.

“If I was working at the 4-H fair, he was always out there in the morning to early afternoon working the Reno booth,” she says “ He would always stop by at the command center and chit-chat on his way home.”

The Venango County Firefighters and Fire Chiefs Association issued the following statement in remembrance of Garbacz:

“We were both shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Reno Fire Chief, Mike Garbacz. Mike was dedicated to the Fire/EMS service. He was an advocate for funding for fire departments. He spent a lot of time researching grants, equipment, apparatus, etc. and would post reminders about grant opportunities, eligibility, deadlines, etc. Mike did a lot of work “behind the scenes”, whenever someone was looking for information you often heard “Ask Mike”.”

“Mike was a valuable source of information for many local departments. If he was aware of a fire company looking for a piece of equipment or apparatus, it was not uncommon for Mike to try to help locate that equipment, and then forward that information to the department in need. He would often offer a “loaner” piece of equipment from his fire company if another department was looking to buy something similar, of if theirs was out for repair.”

“Mike was always willing to help another department, firefighter or EMT in any way he could. One local fire chief recalled a time when one of his department’s engine had to be in for repair for a few days, he notified Mike as his department provided mutual aid to his and vice versa. Mike offered to follow this Chief to the repair center which was over an hour away, and bring him home, and then took him back up a few days later to retrieve the engine. He refused to accept any money for his time or fuel for driving his own personal vehicle and even provided breakfast for the neighboring Fire Chief.”

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