Eight years have passed since Altoona Fire Department Capt. Robert Gallardy died with severe burns he suffered while teaching a training exercise in structural firefighting.
But Gallardy hasn't been forgotten, according to the 100 motorcycle riders and volunteers who participated in Saturday's charity ride to raise money for a fire service education and safety fund established in memory of the late firefighter.
"I knew Bob most of my life, probably since I was 2 years old," said Nicole Beatty of East Freedom, who signed up for the ride with her mother, Jeannie Beatty, a seamstress for the Altoona Fire Department, and friends Dan and Shelly Pulcin of Altoona.
Nearly 60 motorcycles arrive at Altoona City Fire Station No. 1 on Washington Avenue
during the Capt. Bob Gallardy Memorial Poker Run on Saturday.
"Gallardy was a [motorcycle] rider, too," Jeannie Beatty said.
Saturday's ride started in Summerhill, Cambria County, where Gallardy had been a volunteer firefighter for 22 years. With assistance from the Altoona Fire Department, the motorcyclists filled two blocks of Washington Avenue early Saturday afternoon, then parked for a short break. From there, they headed to Hastings, Nicktown and Nanty Glo, before returning to Summerhill.
"When you're out there riding, it's just beautiful," Nicole Beatty said of the first leg of the ride through routes decorated by fall foliage and a blue sky with a few white clouds. "I feel like Bob is watching over us, looking down on us."
Gallardy went to work for the Altoona Fire Department in 1996.
He was promoted to captain in July 1975, and he served four years as state fire academy instructor.
"Bob was an outstanding firefighter for us, and an outstanding captain, too," said Reynold D. Santone Jr., retired chief of the Altoona Fire Department and one of the riders. "He dedicated his life to fire service."
After Gallardy's death on Oct. 25, 2005, Gallardy's family and others set up a fund to help firefighters lacking financial resources to acquire training, certification or protective equipment to make their jobs as safe as possible.
"There's a lot of volunteer firefighters and paid firefighters who cannot afford the training that it costs today to become a firefighter," Santone said. "It gets harder all the time, so a ride like this helps."
Altoona residents Craig Cameron and Paula Ford, who set up a check-in station for the riders, said they volunteered to assist with the event.
"It honors his memory and helps the fund," Cameron said.
Summerhill Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Burkett said he was pleased with the turnout and with the opportunity for the Summerhill community to join the riders later in the day at a chicken dinner.
"[Gallardy] had a lot of family and friends who don't ride motorcycles, so we invited the whole community," Burkett said.