Friday, April 13, 2007

Npt FD mourns commissioner, ex-chief after sudden death


Longtime Northport Fire Department member Robert Guinn died suddenly Thursday, April 5. He was 59.

Fire department sources say that Mr. Guinn was working on a project for his business Cabinet Corner at a construction site on Selden Drive in East Northport when he had a heart attack. Another man with whom he was working was on a ladder working and when he turned around, he saw Mr. Guinn on the ground and called 911.

Emergency medical technicians from the East Northport Fire Department responded to the scene. When the Northport Fire Department EMTs discovered who the victim was, they, too, raced to the scene. Mr. Guinn was rushed to Huntington Hospital but he could not saved.

Mr. Guinn joined the fire department in 1971 and quickly established himself as a reliable member. He served as captain of the Hook and Ladder company and was elected chief from 1986 until 1988. He was appointed a member of the fire commissioners in 1989 by then-Mayor Peter Nolan.

A service was held Tuesday morning at Nolan-Taylor and Howe before Mr. Guinn’s burial at Northport Rural Cemetery. In his casket were an Irish blessing and the fire department logo.
After the family members and civilian guests had been seated in the viewing room, Mr. Guinn’s fellow firefighters filed into the viewing room in two rows wearing their dress blues and white gloves. Department chaplain Paul Latuso said that, “Death is not the end” and asked that those present “pray for Robert and for those who loved him.”
He then recited from the 1st letter from Paul to the Corinthians, “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet.”
Mr. Latuso said that he heard several people wished to say a few words of remembrance but most of those who attended seemed too upset to speak and declined at the last moment.
Following Mr. Latuso’s comments, the firefighters paid their last respects to Mr. Guinn by saluting him one last time before filing out. The family and civilian guests followed.
Following the ceremony, Mr. Guinn’s body was loaded into the back of the department’s 1952 Ford fire truck. Some of the many flower arrangements were piled on top of the wooden casket. Mr. Guinn was driven from Nolan north on Main Street past the firehouse where ladder trucks from both the Northport Fire Department and the East Northport Fire Department held a giant flag aloft. The truck paused under the flag and the fire bell was rung. The department’s main station house as well as the substation on Waterside Avenue were draped with purple bunting and a lighted sign stating “we mourn our loss” was placed in the window of the building.
At Northport Rural Cemetery, former Northport Police Department Chief Robert Howard, dressed in the uniform of the Northport Pipe Band, played “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and “Amazing Grace.”
Former Mayor Nolan spoke as a friend and in his capacity as the director of the funeral invited all guests back to the firehouse “to tell some stories about Bob. And with Bobby, there were 100 stories.” Following the ceremony, each guest laid a flower on Mr. Guinn’s gravesite before leaving as the firefighters continued to stand at attention. Chief Arthur Gerow, First Assistant Chief Bob “Beefy” Varese and Second Assistant Chief John McKenna were the last to leave.
Because of Mr. Guinn’s relatively young age and vibrancy, most were shocked by his sudden death.
“You wouldn’t expect it,” said First Assistant Chief Varese. “Not this guy. He had too much energy.”
Anthony Graziano, a fellow fire commissioner and former chief, agreed. “We were all shocked,” he said. “Bobby was by far the most active fire department commissioner or member anyone can think of. He was like the uncle you thought would always be around. He was the pillar of the family who was taken at a young age.”
Mr. Graziano said Mr. Guinn performed just about every duty one can in the fire department “and did it well. “ He called Mr. Guinn “brilliant.”
“He was able to put complex thoughts into layman’s terms so everyone could understand,” he said. “He was a beloved figure because everything he did was to benefit the members of the department and the community. His key thought was that he was not getting equipment just for the firefighters but rather to protect the community. He was very conscious of the fact that his job [as commissioner] was to get them what they need. He was truly dedicated to serving the community and the Northport Fire Department. He stepped up to the plate many times. We lost a really good guy.”
Mr. Graziano said that Mr. Guinn had been “instrumental” in obtaining “any number of apparatus” in recent years for the department and renovating the existing firehouse and constructing the substation.
Mr. Graziano said that, in addition, Mr. Guinn was the “energy and organizing force” behind the department’s annual fair held each year in July.
Mr. Guinn served as the spokesperson for the Board of Fire Commissioners in its dealings with the Northport Village Board, which oversees many of the department’s financial operations. Meetings with the Board about the department’s request to create two separate corporations became testy at times with Mr. Guinn fiercely protecting the department’s right to privacy.
He was a tough negotiator, Mr. Graziano said, but left it all at the table when the negotiations were over.
“You could disagree with him and have a strong debate but when he walked away he’d say, ‘They’re just doing their job,’” Mr. Graziano said. “He thought every day is a new day, a new issue.”
Mayor George Doll and members of the Village Board of Trustees agreed with Mr. Graziano. “Obviously he was 100 percent fireman,” Mayor Doll said. “And he really fought for the fire department. While negotiating, he would fight you tooth and nail and the department was lucky to have him. I can just imagine that big smile he would give right before he told you, ‘You’re wrong.’”
Mayor Doll said Mr. Guinn’s grasp of complicated issues such as the fireman’s retirement system was impressive.
“The information is available on paper and in the files, but he had the information on the tip of his tongue and was able to recall it verbatim,” Mayor Doll said.
“It’s truly a great loss,” Deputy Mayor Arlene Handel said.
Mr. Guinn always did his homework, Trustee Ed Perlin said. “And even though you were sometimes opponents, you would always slap each other on the back and be friends afterward. He will be sorely missed.”
Mr. Graziano said that because Mr. Guinn was so dedicated to the annual fair, he would have wanted Mr. Graziano to mention the 2007 dates. “If he knew this was going to be in The Observer, Bobby would want me to say that the fair will be held this year from Monday July 9 through Saturday July 14,” he said. “Believe me, he really would have wanted me to say that.”
Mr. Guinn is survived by daughters Liz, of Port Jefferson, and Mary, of East Northport; son Robert, Jr., who is teaching English in Japan; brothers Charlie, Artie and Millard, and sisters Alice and Kathleen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can´t believe this. Back when I was 6-9 years old I was best friends with his son, Robert Jr. I lived right next door to them. I only came across this article by accident trying to find a long lost friend.

Mr. Guin, from what I remember from when I was a child, was a fantistic¨"friend´s dad" who was incredibly nice, cool, and accomodating. That description sucks and does him no justice, but it´s the best I can do.

I´m still searching for Robbie, aka Robert Junior. If anybody reading this knows him, have him e-mail me at Just let him know that it was his old best friend Nick who lived next door to him on burt avenue 25 years ago, and is trying to reconnect.

Northport has lost a great man.