GARFIELD - When 46-year-old Angelo Petta, an energetic city employee and volunteer firefighter of 18 years, died of a heart attack Saturday after helping to evacuate a house with a natural gas leak, the city was left in shock.
"He was strong as an ox," said his boss, Superintendent of Public Works Sam Garofalo. "That guy could do anything. I can count on one hand the number of times that Angelo called out of work. I never would have expected this."
Petta, a truck driver and equipment operator for the Department of Public Works for 19 years, a husband and a father of two, collapsed after responding to a call in the Garwood Court section, where he recently bought a house. He died at PBI Regional Medical Center in Passaic.
Born in Marineo, Sicily, his family moved to Garfield when he was 6. He had moved to Franklin in Sussex County for a brief time before returning to Garfield four months ago.
"He moved back just for the Fire Department," said Fire Chief Mike Latona. "He was very dedicated."
He was a member of Garfield Company 4 for six years and assistant engineer of Fire Company 3 for four years before becoming chief engineer eight years ago.
"He was really excited about the new house because he was only going to be four minutes away from the Fire Department," said his niece, Gina Costa of Vernon. "It was his life. The people at the Fire Department were like family. Those guys were all his brothers."
Petta was widely known in the city and was described as personable and fun.
"Angelo lived his life like it was a party. He always wanted people around him," Costa said.
Gorofalo knew Petta for |18 years.
"He was always outgoing and joked around with the guys," he said. "Everyone's taking it really hard here."
Although Petta was a diabetic, his family, friends and co-workers said he seemed vibrant and healthy. He coached soccer with the Hardyston Soccer Club in Hardyston for four years.
Petta was also known for his kindness.
"He was a good guy," said Mayor Frank Calandriello, who grew up with Petta and his seven brothers. "He would give you the shirt off his back. It's a great and tragic loss. The city is deeply saddened."
"Nobody expected this," Costa said. "Nobody believed it. It's surreal. But in our hearts, we know he'll always be with us."
Visitation will be Wednesday from 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Aloia Funeral Home, 180 Harrison Ave. Funeral services will be 10 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church at 69 Market St.