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A Fire Station's Roll Call Double Take

A Fire Station's Roll Call Double Take

District Chief Geoffrey Gardell, left, and his brother, acting District Chief Timothy Gardell, at the Franklin Street Station. [Franklin Fire Department]

Worcester Telegram via YellowBrix

April 19, 2010

WORCESTER — District Chief Geoffrey Gardell gets a little laugh when the Fire Department’s morning roll call is broadcast.

His name is announced, then his brother’s — Capt. Timothy Gardell, who is an acting district chief.

“I giggle every time I hear it,” Geoffrey said recently, standing outside the Franklin Street Fire Station.

For the Gardell brothers, their lives are a complete parallel. Life events came around the same time and so did changes in their careers in the department.

Growing up on Constitution Avenue in Great Brook Valley — later on Vernon Hill — the Gardell brothers were two of eight children. In a family of five boys and three girls, money was tight and so was living space.

But their homemaker mother and auto body technician father did their best to keep the family going.

“We made do. We didn’t know we didn’t have things,” said Geoffrey, 52. “One of my friends is an only child and I used to tell him I didn’t know that you could only put one can of water in Campbell’s soup. That is one of my lines.”

Standing near the district chief cars, the brothers push each other playfully and chat. They are both straight talkers, funny and — when it comes to fighting a fire — very professional.

Firefighter Paul Bastardo, who drives Timothy, 49, while they are on duty, watched as the two brothers chatted.

“They work well with people; they have good management skills,” Firefighter Bastardo said.

He recalled the calls over the radio when firefighters first arrived at the blaze that eventually engulfed the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center last month. It was Geoffrey on the radio. He coolly and calmly said, “We are going to be here for a while.”

That is the kind of demeanor both Gardells have at a call.

“When they get to an incident they show no emotion. They never get riled,” Firefighter Bastardo said. “That’s how they function at all the calls. They maintain their composure, which allows everyone to stay composed.”

Geoffrey’s longtime friend, Firefighter Robert Pastor, who drives the district chief, quickly commented, “He knows the job and he does it very well.”

“He doesn’t forget where he came from,” Firefighter Pastor said.

The brothers didn’t grow up wanting to be firefighters and they each quickly rattle off a name (in a joking manner) to blame for their career choice.

Geoffrey remembers working at Christie & Thompson, an auto parts store in the city. He was in his 20s and some of the off-duty firefighters worked in the warehouse.

He met former Firefighter Barney Murphy.

“He talked to me about joining. He gave me the paperwork,” Geoffrey said.

At the age of 25 in 1984, Geoffrey joined the ranks of the Worcester Fire Department. He then reeled in Timothy.

“He’s the one who got me interested in the job. I had no intentions, I never even thought of it until he got on the job,” said Timothy, who joined in 1987.

When Geoffrey moved up to lieutenant, his brother quickly followed. Then Timothy leapfrogged his older brother, when he became captain. The competitiveness on moving up in rank didn’t last long; Geoffrey was the next captain promoted after his brother.

Their shifts varied through the better part of their careers. Timothy would say, “You probably see him more than I do,” when someone asked about Geoffrey.

The Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. fire, where six firefighters died, made them realize they needed to see each other more. They now catch up and even hit the links for rounds of golf.

“We probably got a little emotional a few nights after that happened,” Geoffrey said of the devastating fire. “I said we don’t talk enough, we don’t see each other enough and this could have been either of us.”