Sunday, September 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

New Jersey town hit by Sandy mourns firefighter

UNION BEACH, N.J. - A volunteer firefighter who died battling a weekend blaze at the New Jersey Shore had lost his own house in Hurricane Sandy and just last week had moved into a rebuilt home.

Robert Meyer, a member of Union Hose Fire Company #1 in Union Beach, collapsed outside the burning building Sunday evening, the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office said. An autopsy showed he died of a heart attack.

A spokesman for the office, Charles Webster, said investigators are still unable to pinpoint the cause of the fire. But he said they have not ruled out a broken wire in an electrical feed running into the building. Investigators took photos of those wires Monday afternoon.

The probe continued as this blue-collar Raritan Bay community reeled from its latest tragedy. Gigi Liaguno-Dorr, who is trying to rebuild her bar and restaurant, which was destroyed by the storm, and who knew Meyer for years, said he was beloved.

"He was just an amazing, compassionate, beautiful spirit," she said. "He was just a good guy. When you volunteer, you literally put other people before yourself, and he was the very definition of that."

She said Meyer's home had to be demolished after Sandy.

"He lost his own home, was living in a trailer, and he and the other firefighters were still helping other people after the storm," Liaguno-Dorr said. "He was the very meaning of bravery. This town is heavyhearted today."

Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni called Meyer's death "a tragedy for the family, firefighters, and the community of Union Beach."

The four-alarm fire gutted Hydrair Inc., a hydraulic and pneumatic tools distributor that was unoccupied when the fire broke out shortly before 6 p.m.

Glenn Flood lost his own home to a fire several blocks away in 2011 and came to the fire scene Monday to check the damage.

"He was a volunteer and he gave his life," Flood said. "This is a great town; that's why people want to live here. But we've been going through some tragedies. This is another hard blow."

Meyer's colleagues at Union Beach's four volunteer firehouses were closing ranks Monday, declining to speak with reporters about him. Purple and black bunting, reserved for firefighter deaths, was draped from the awnings of his firehouse, and flags at all four firehouses were at half-staff Monday.

A message board at Meyer's firehouse read "Ultimate Sacrifice, Bob Meyer, June 8, 2014."

In 2005, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awarded Meyer a medal for helping a state trooper pull a man from a burning tractor-trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick.

Liaguno-Dorr recalled that Meyer would sometimes bring flowers to people he thought needed cheering up. He was constantly smiling and never talked badly about anyone, she said.

"You know the guy who always knew what to say to make you feel better? He was that guy," she said. "This is so sad. He was a brave, honorable man. This town lost a great man."

Wayne Parry Associated Press
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