OWEGO -- The American flag flies at half staff in front of the Village of Owego Municipal Building. A few hundred feet away, the lighted Maltese cross on the front of the central fire station is draped with a black cloth signifying the mourning period the department and village have entered.
Stephen G. Gavin, 52, of East Main Street, an acting lieutenant in the Susquehanna Hose Co. No. 1 of the Owego Fire Department, died early Tuesday morning. He had been hospitalized since he suffered a heart attack Aug. 27 while fighting a stubborn lumber yard fire on a hot and humid day.
"He epitomized the height of the volunteer fire service," said Kenneth Wolff, a retired Tioga County fire coordinator and former Owego fire chief.
"We certainly have lost a very dedicated and caring individual who served as a mentor for all young men coming into the department," Wolff added.
Gavin, the father of three sons, all firefighters with the Owego Fire Department, had been in critical condition at Wilson Memorial Regional Medical Center in Johnson City. He died around 3 a.m. Tuesday at Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pa., where he had been air lifted in a last-minute attempt to save his life.
Gavin was the first New York firefighter to die in the line of duty this year, New York State Fire Administrator James A. Burns said. Gavin collapsed while fighting the Robinson Lumber Yard fire on Day Hollow Road in the Town of Owego.
He will be buried with full firefighter funeral observances, a ceremony that is expected to draw hundreds of fellow firefighters to the Village of Owego.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Patrick's Church in Owego with the Rev. William Moorby and the Rev. Patrick VanDurme officiating.
Gavin's family will receive friends from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Estey & Monroe Funeral Home, 15 Park St., Owego.
The 34-year firefighter is survived by his wife, Toni.
"We have lost one of our own," said Joseph Finnegan, president of the Firemen's Association of the State of New York. "It is certainly a very unfortunate incident that happens all too often and points out the fact firefighting is a dangerous occupation and anything can happen at any time."
The Owego Fire Department last year honored Gavin and his three sons, Patrick, Timothy and Daniel, as its Firefighters of the Year.
Gavin also was a past member of the Owego Emergency Squad and had served as squad co-captain.
He served the fire department and company in many capacities, including past captain. He also was company vice president last year and spent a large period of time involved with three of the department's firematics teams.
"He had a long firefighting career," Patrick Gavin said, recalling his father's efforts during a number of business-district fires.
"He died doing what he loved to do, serving the community," Wolff said.
Departments wishing to participate in an apparatus procession should arrive at the Owego VFD North Avenue station by 9 a.m. on September 5. Following the service, a procession will march to the cemetery. For questions, call Tioga Co. Fire (607) 687-8466 or Owego Fire Station (607) 6871201.
Memorial contributions may be made in Stephen G. Gavin's memory to the Owego Fire Department Training Tower, 178 Main St., Owego, N.Y. 13827.