CARBONDALE – Most nonagenarians have put up their feet and kicked back long ago, content to simply watch the world go by. This is not the case for Carbondale native Ron Gilroy.
When talking with Gilroy, it would seem that the words stop, quit, or slow down are not in his vocabulary. Born and raised in the Pioneer City, Gilroy turned 91 on March 21st. But is his age a cause to put up his feet, to fully retire? Not in the least. For Gilroy, age is deemed a mere number.
The eldest and still-active member of the Carbondale Fire Department (CFD), Gilroy serves the CFD 24/7 as Captain of the Fire Police.
Since 1973, Gilroy has been a CFD volunteer, giving his all and his best to serve his home community. “Back then, I went to fire school and trained with the other fellas,” said Gilroy. “I was certified to fight fires and did that for many years. These days, I still go out with the guys and help as a Fire Police officer.” In this capacity, Gilroy explained that he is on call “all the time. The Com Center sends us the calls and tells us what the emergency or accident is and where we should go. I have my own radio and can listen from home or in my pick-up, so I go out with the guys to the scene.”
“The scene” can be any emergency from a fire, an auto accident, a gas leak, “anything where the Fire Department goes when needed, and I’ll direct traffic and help keep the scene safe,” said Gilroy. On arrival at such incidents, Gilroy and his fellow Fire Police are easily identified by their CFD vests. Working together, they post warning devices to alert oncoming motorists that they are approaching an emergency scene. As Pennsylvania Fire Police, the dedicated volunteers have the full power to regulate traffic and keep crowds under control at or in the vicinity of any fire or related emergency that their company is attending.
“I really enjoy being a Fire Police volunteer,” Gilroy added. “I’ve been with this group for over 40 years. They’re like my family.” At one time, Gilroy said that there used to be 35 Fire Police members among the CFD, but “today there’s only about six of us who usually make the calls. Me … I go out on them all.”
Born and raised in the Pioneer city, Gilroy grew up in town, the middle sibling of two sisters and two brothers. With strong family ties and equally proud of “his” country, Gilroy dropped out of high school when he was 17 to join the Army, serving America during WW II. Following the armistice of V-J Day, Gilroy continued his military service for 10 years and was proudly discharged as Sgt. 1st Class. “The war was tough,” Gilroy recalled, “but I had a chance to see a lot of the world all those years … the So. Pacific, Japan, the Philippines, the China Sea, the Mediterranean, and the oceans and more. Those times aren’t forgotten.”
On his return home, Gilroy married and eventually had seven children, six daughters and a son. “I now have 22 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren,” he said. “They’re all scattered, some in Pennsylvania, others in Texas and Florida.”
Throughout his working years, Gilroy spent “52 years as a tractor trailer driver. I was on the road running north and south across America,” he said. “I had my own truck, was my own boss, and I liked being on my own. I used to work for J. Moffitt Freight Lines and also for Gillen Coal, handling heavy equipment during the summer and trailering coal in the winter.”
But 73 years later, Gilroy’s decision to leave his studies behind was not forgotten either. “I actually got my high school diploma last summer,” Gilroy recently said. “No kidding! I joined the class of 2016 and walked in with everyone, and they gave me my diploma with the rest of the class.”
When Gilroy attended high school nearly three quarters of a century ago, his classes were held at the former Benjamin Franklin High School, during times when students walked to school. “There were no school busses back then,” quipped Gilroy. Last spring, Gilroy joined the 2016 graduates at the Carbondale Area High School. This time, Gilroy’s school walk was across the stage to receive his HS diploma from Principal Joseph Farrell. Several family members proudly joined the audience to share the special occasion.
While Gilroy is a rather quiet man, one of few words who jokes about knowing “all the girls at Dunkin Donuts,” it is not a joke that this friendly nonagenarian is well regarded for his ongoing dedication to his family, his country, and the Pioneer City.