NAUGATUCK — Retired Naugatuck Fire Capt. Vincent Healy remembers his late uncle John Gaspar often being first on the scene, even after retiring as Naugatuck’s fire chief in 1988.
Healy, who became a firefighter in 1996, said Gaspar remained dedicated to the department after retiring. He recalled one fatal accident when then-retired Gaspar arrived on the scene before anyone else.
“He was in his yard and he heard it,” Healy said. “He was the first one there, the first to call 911.”
Gaspar, who died last month at 88, was a member of the department for 34 years, his last 12 as chief.
Healy joined the department only after consulting with Gaspar about the position. At the time, Healy had a good job at Allstate Insurance. But he was married and had a child and was worried about the benefits package. Healy said after talking to Gaspar, he decided the job was for him.
Healy said Gaspar told him about the difficult parts of the job and passed along some advice.
“You’re going to have good days and bad days. You’re going to see things you’re going to want to forget,” Healy said, recounting his uncle’s advice. “He was right.”
Healy said another key tip Gaspar passed along was: “You really need to get along with the people you’re going to be working and living with, they’re going to have to be people you can trust.”
Healy said when they talked, Gaspar talked about the old days, including how the tools firefighters use today are much better than what was available when Gaspar was chief.
“He didn’t have air packs back then. We wouldn’t think of going into a building without an air pack,” Healy said.
Gaspar became a firefighter in Naugatuck in 1954 after serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He started as a volunteer and then moved up the ranks before becoming fire chief in 1976.
Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, who worked with Gaspar in the 1980s when he was borough attorney, said Gaspar was respected by everyone.
“John Gaspar was without question the best fire chief I ever worked with,” Hess said.
Hess described Gaspar as “tough but fair.”
“He did a great job managing the department,” Hess said. “He recognized rules were there for a reason and would be enforced evenly and fairly, and he was very good at it.”
Healy said that Gaspar’s biggest hobby was his family.
“His family meant the world to him,” Healy said.
Gaspar has four daughters, 13 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, as well as many other relatives.
In 1995, Gaspar’s wife, Patricia, died, and in 1996 he lost his only son, John J. Gaspar Jr.
Burgess Robert Neth said he has known Gaspar, who was his wife’s uncle, for 40 years. Neth said that when he got on the Board of Finance in the late 1980s, Gaspar shared helpful information about the borough.
“He was a wealth of knowledge,” Neth said. “He gave me so much information about the fire department and how it was run, and on all the trucks.”
Neth said Gaspar was a “jack of all trades.”
“He knew how to do everything — plumbing, mechanical and electrical work,” Neth said.
Healy said he saw Gaspar two days before he died, and even though Gaspar knew he was dying, the “smile never left his face.”
“He was one of the bravest people I’ve ever met,” Healy said. “You can’t be a fire chief without it meaning a lot to you.”
“He meant the world to me, and still does,” Healy added.
Gaspar was also a 53-year member of the Naugatuck B.P.O. Elks, Lodge 967, and a lifetime member and avid supporter of Clube Uniao Portuguesa in Naugatuck.
After Gaspar retired, he served as the legislative representative for the Connecticut State Firemen’s Association. He lobbied for legislative initiatives, including the passage of the bill for the state’s enhanced 911 system.
In 2014, the Connecticut State Firefighters Association inducted Gaspar into its Hall of Fame.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Saturday, July 6 at 10 a.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 318 Church St., Naugatuck. Calling hours are Friday, July 5 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Buckmiller Thurston Mengacci Funeral Home, 82 Fairview Ave., Naugatuck.