It was the kind of event that Bob Gallardy would have been more comfortable in as a participant than as the center of attention.
But the late, humble firefighter didn't have a choice about being the focus of Friday's fourth annual Go for Gallardy Poker Run, a motorcycle trip from Johnstown to Altoona and back to raise money for a cause Gallardy had honored in life - and died for.
Altoona fire Capt. Joe Eberhardt found out how humble Gallardy was soon after the former Summerhill volunteer first joined the city department.
Angelo and Tatiana Bivona of Johnstown size up a T-shirt commemorating the fourth annual Go for Gallardy Poker Run during a stop Friday at Altoona Fire Department Station No. 1. Participants received a free lunch at the Washington Avenue station.
On their first shift together, Eberhardt went through all the compartments in a fire truck, pulling out equipment, explaining its uses, as Gallardy dutifully nodded and said, "Yes, sir."
Within two months, Eberhardt realized from an accumulation of evidence - including Gallardy's status as a firefighter instructor - that he knew more than Eberhardt ever would about firefighting and had only been withholding that knowledge out of politeness on his first day.
Gallardy died in 2005 while instructing firefighters at the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy in Lewistown, when he was severely burned during a training exercise.
About 117 riders participated in the event this year, paying $20 each toward the fund, which the Central Pennsylvania Community Foundation administers.
As part of the Thunder in the Valley motorcycle rally, the run attracted people from all over the area, including Bill Swartz of Jeannette, who came with several other firefighters from his area.
Firefighters are brothers, Swartz said, explaining why they did it.
What makes it a brotherhood? "We're the stupid ones who run into burning buildings," he said.
The 49-year-old Swartz said he's been in the service since age 6, when he started helping his dad around the station.
His grandfather and two brothers were firefighters,while his godfather, who is over 80, remains a chief.
"I grew up on it," Swartz said.
Gallardy's widow, Vickie, and their son, Drew - riding Bob's old bike - rode Friday, although they weren't among the first wave of 25 to reach Altoona.
Eight Altoona firefighters also participated.
When he was a member of the department, Gallardy, Eberhardt and others rode in charity events and around the area for fun - for example, to the Fight 93 Memorial in Shanksville or to Huntingdon for ice cream, Eberhardt said.
When he began to describe Gallardy, Eberhardt tilted his head up slightly, raised his eyes and lifted his hands and spread them - almost like a priest at Mass.
His friend was well-liked, Eberhardt said, adding that he knows almost everyone says that about people who die.
"But people said he was a good guy when he was alive," Eberhardt said.
And that knowledge he hid from Eberhardt that first night, even though he was an instructor?
"He loved to pass it on," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.