Garfield, NJ -- A veteran Garfield firefighter died of a heart attack on Saturday, collapsing after helping to evacuate a home struck by a natural gas leak.
Angelo Petta, 46, died Saturday evening at Passaic Beth Israel Hospital in Passaic, stunning firefighters who remembered him as an energetic, easygoing fixture of the department.
"Everybody's down," said John Keating Jr., captain of Garfield's Fire Company No. 3, where he and Petta had volunteered together for 18 years.
"He loved being a firefighter," Keating said. "We just recently had taken in a bunch of younger guys, new guys in the company, and they looked up to him. He was like a pied piper."
Petta, the company's chief engineer, is survived by his wife, Dominica, and two young children, George and Joseph.
The call of a natural gas leak at 43 Garwood Court South came in around 6:20 p.m. The location was around the corner from the Garwood Court home that Petta had recently purchased. He immediately responded to the neighboring home, Keating said.
"He was evacuating residents from the first floor of the building, trying to ventilate it a little bit," he said. "He came out, he started talking to one of my sergeants ... and he just dropped."
No one else was injured, said city Fire Chief Michael Latona, who said Petta had seemed to be in good health.
Petta worked as a truck-driver for the city's Department of Public Works. Only days ago, he had been looking forward to the summer, talking about getting his back yard ready, Keating recalled.
"He was very outgoing," Keating said. "If he didn't know your name, he would know you by the end of the night. He's the kind of guy that would go right up to a stranger and strike up a conversation with anyone that wanted to talk."