Obituary: Richard Bodnar / Firefighter in Duquesne for 44 years; led as chief since 1995
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The two black wreaths hanging on pillars outside Duquesne's municipal building this week signify the loss of Richard Bodnar, a firefighter for 44 years in the city where he was born and the only chief the fire department has known since becoming a volunteer company in 1995.
Mr. Bodnar, who was 65, died Sunday morning in his West Mifflin home.
He had dealt with various health difficulties over the past year, including lung and circulatory ailments. His left leg had to be amputated below the knee early this year, but he continued working and was in the fire hall last week.
Mr. Bodnar, a Vietnam veteran, was long known as a hard-working, no-nonsense leader of a crew of two dozen or so young individuals he taught and protected.
"He was strict, but he was always willing to help anybody," said Chris Bearley, the department's assistant chief, who started volunteering in 2001 at age 18. "His philosophy was as this is a volunteer fire department, your family comes first, your job second, and then the fire department."
Mr. Bodnar grew up in Duquesne, playing football as a hard-nosed linebacker for Duquesne High School before graduating in 1964.
He worked for U.S. Steel's National Tube Works in McKeesport before the Army drafted him and sent him to Vietnam, where he worked as a lineman setting up communications poles.
After another mill stint upon his discharge, he scored well on a civil service test in his hometown and could have become either a police officer or firefighter.
He chose the latter.
He began work as a paid fireman in 1968 and got married a year later. He helped his wife, Carole, by juggling various duties during the challenges she has had since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999.
For many years, he also worked part time for funeral homes or Giant Eagle.
"He didn't have hobbies," his wife said. "He would always be working to make extra money for the family."
When Duquesne's budget difficulties forced the shutdown of the paid fire department in 1995, Mr. Bodnar was a natural choice for city council to appoint to the sole paid position remaining, as chief leading a new group of volunteers, said Phil Krivacek, who was a councilman at the time and is mayor of Duquesne today.
"He never asked for any accolades," Mr. Krivacek said. "He always just did what he had to do to make things work and never asked for anyone to pat him on his back. ... He always made sure that everything at a fire got done the right way there and when they got back."
As both chief and treasurer, Mr. Bodnar oversaw not just fire call operations but the company's finances, equipment, training, relations with city officials and other fire companies in the area, and more. And he was a mentor about more than just firefighting.
"To a lot of guys, he was a father figure," Mr. Bearley said. "Any question you ever had, he always had the answer to. ... He was a voice of reason."
Mrs. Bodnar said her husband's toughest day on the job was when several children died during a fire in the early part of his career. He and others administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to no avail.
"That was just devastating to him," she recalled. "He was physically tough, but he was a softie inside, especially when it comes to family things."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Bodnar is survived by a daughter, Bethany Wingerson of West Mifflin; a son, Richard Bodnar of Moon; and two sisters, Judy Hornfeck and Susan Manns, both of West Mifflin.
Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. today and Wednesday at Maloy-Schleifer Funeral Homes, 915 Kennedy Ave., Duquesne. Fire companies from around the area will gather there for a memorial service at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday in Holy Trinity Church in West Mifflin, with presentation of military honors.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Duquesne Volunteer Fire Department, 12 S. Second St., Duquesne, PA 15110; or to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 1501 Reedsdale St., Suite 105, Pittsburgh, PA 15233.
First Published July 10, 2012 12:00 am