Kind-Hearted Firefighter Was a Devout Catholic

November 2, 2001

He loved the old-time Latin Mass and drove his family all the way from their home in Babylon to Ave Maria Chapel in Westbury to hear it each week. On the back of his car was one of those bumper stickers that read "Keep Christ in Christmas."

And Rescue 3 firefighter Thomas Gambino Jr. kept the church's rules about meatless Fridays, though when it was steak night at his Bronx firehouse he'd make sure his company saved him one.

"At 12 o'clock midnight, he'd be looking for his meat," recalled Rescue 3 Lt. Gerry Murtha with a laugh. "They used to tease him that they'd eaten it."

Gambino, 48, who attended Farmingdale High School when it was split among jocks, greasers and other students, was a kind-hearted teenager who got along easily with all kinds of people, recalled Murtha, who first met Gambino in sixth grade. He poured his considerable strength into weightlifting before it was fashionable, founding the school's weightlifting club, and always had a smile on his face.

Gambino joined the New York Fire Department 17 years ago and spent most of his career there in Engine Co. 163 in Woodside. But he was always looking for more of a challenge, and Murtha helped him join the busy rescue company 18 months ago.

Gambino was remembered Oct. 15 with a traditional Latin Requiem Mass at Ave Maria.

Family values was the watchword for this firefighter, whose spare time was devoted to his wife, Janet, and their two sons, Tommy, 20, and Brian, 14; and to the life of their church. The boys were altar boys at Ave Maria, and when they got interested in surfing, Gambino went along with them to Robert Moses Beach.

"A lot of boys that age wouldn't want their father coming down to the beach with them," Murtha said, "but they loved it."

-- Elizabeth Moore (Newsday)