By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
Messner served town, Beacon Hose for over six decades
BEACON FALLS — After Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 firefighter Jeremy Rodorigo’s second son was born in 2004, Robert Messner showed up unannounced at his front door with a surprise gift: a homemade, wooden motorcycle rocking horse with the letter N — for Noah — engraved on the gas tank.
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” said Rodorigo, who still has the rocking horse to this day.
Rodorigo added, “When you think of the word ‘gentleman,’ he was it.”
Messner, the longest-serving member in the history of Beacon Hose, died March 2. He was 91 years old.
Messner joined Beacon Hose in July 1958 and remained a dedicated member for 63 years. He was a staple at the department — driving the department’s 1929 Seagrave firetruck and manning the raffle booth at the annual firemen’s carnival and parade. He wore many hats for the volunteer department over the years, including serving as the longtime captain of the fire police unit, which assists at the scene of emergencies.
Messner, who is credited with reinvigorating the fire police unit, retired as fire police captain in 2019. He was named fire police captain emeritus.
Beacon Hose Chief Brian DeGeorge paused for a few seconds when asked what Messner meant to the volunteer fire and EMS department. It’s not easy to put the legacy of Beacon Hose’s longest-serving member into words.
“He was a huge role model for anybody coming through the department,” said DeGeorge, who joined the department in 1995.
DeGeorge said Messner never shied away from projects and his presence was always felt at the department. Messner never missed work sessions on Monday night at the firehouse, he said.
“Bob didn’t miss one,” DeGeorge said. “He was dedicated and he was dedicated for the whole cause.”
A master mechanic by trade, Messner shared his expertise with the department — whether fixing the Seagrave and other apparatus or serving on committees to buy new vehicles. He was also more than willing to lend a hand to anyone who needed help.
“He knew everything that there was to know about how a truck ran, worked, pumped to the most minute detail,” said Rodorigo, who is also an EMT and public information officer for the department.
Rodorigo, who joined the department in 1987, said Messner “could fix anything” and was as humble as he was knowledgeable.
“My grandfather was a very knowledgeable and energetic man who would do anything to help somebody and show you the way on things,” said Anna Dutkanicz, one of Messner’s six grandchildren.
Growing up, Dutkanicz learned her way around tools in her grandfather’s workshop. As part of her senior project at Woodland Regional High School, Dutkanicz made 25 wooden jigsaw puzzles with her grandfather by her side.
When Dutkanicz started a family of her own, her children learned how to ride a bicycle from their great-grandfather.
Messner also had plenty words of wisdom to share, particularly that family comes above all else.
“Whether it was his family at home or his family at the firehouse, he was all about family,” Rodorigo said.
Family time for Messner meant picking blueberries and strawberries at his home on Buckingham Drive — the blueberry patch is still there and Dutkanicz, with her children, will continue to tend to the blueberries — or going for tractor rides.
Dutkanicz said her grandfather’s stories could turn a ride on his porch swing into an adventure.
Waiting for “gramp” to drive the Seagrave during the annual parade was yet another family tradition for Dutkanicz and her children. Dutkanicz said being a member of Beacon Hose meant a lot to her grandfather.
“He loved it there, that’s why he stayed involved for 63 years,” Dutkanicz said.
DeGeorge called Messner’s more than six decades of service to the town and department an “anomaly.” He said the knowledge and experience longtime members like Messner bring to the department are irreplaceable. They provide lessons that can’t be learned in a book, he said.
“You can’t replace the history and you can’t replace the experience those guys bring to the table,” he said.