Heart attack won't sideline Forbes Road fire chief
By Michele Stewardson
Published: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 8:58 p.m.
Chief Bob Rosatti of the Forbes Road Volunteer Fire Department will not soon forget the Dec. 2 fire in Slickville.
The call started out like any other — except maybe that he was in the middle of cleaning his carpets when the alarm rang.
He drove himself to the scene at the other end of Salem Township.
It was a working fire with a lot of smoke coming from the attic.
As he has done so many times before, Rosatti cut ventilation holes in the roof and took a hose into the attic to attack the fire. He came out feeling tired but no more tired than he had any other time.
So he put his coat back on and went into the house again, searching for a breaker box or the cause of the fire.
Then he felt a “discomfort as though he'd just worked out with weights.”
Maybe it's because heart disease runs in Rosatti's family or maybe it's because the trained emergency medical technician has seen similar symptoms, but he knew enough to walk out of the house and head directly to the ambulance.
“I've been in this business long enough and I am the first one to say go to the hospital if you are in pain,” said Rosatti, 49, who lives right next door to the Forbes Road station. “Let the doctor tell you it's indigestion or a pulled muscle.”
Dr. Juan Chahin said there is no doubt Rosatti did the right thing.
“He was having a major heart attack,” said Chahin of Westmoreland County Cardiology, who treated Rosatti at Excela Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg. “He did the right thing coming to the hospital or he might not have made it.”
It has been a humbling experience for Rosatti, who has been receiving get-well calls from people from all over the county who have met him along the way.
Bill Bosio, who has known Rosatti all his life, said it's part of the special brotherhood shared by firefighters.
“I got calls from guys in Greensburg, from everywhere, people wanting to know how Bobby was doing,” said Bosio, who has been a firefighter since 1975. “There's a special bonding we have; I can't explain it. It's the worst time in someone's life, they call, and we're there. You can't put a price tag on that.”
For Rosatti, it's in his blood.
The president of Forbes Road Fire Department is John Rosatti, 77, Bob Rosatti's father.
Other members include his brothers — Steven, John and Tom.
Their late brother, David, was president of the department at the time of his death from Stills Disease, a rare inflammatory condition.
John Rosatti took his boys with him to the fire station when they were children.
“It kept them out of trouble,” he said. “It's extra special. I feel like I grew up with my kids. Firefighting is a lot of hard work — you're together all the time.”
“You always want to emulate your hero, which is my dad. That's why I followed in his footsteps,” Bob Rosatti said.
But just as much credit goes to his mother, Sandy Rosatti, and his sister, Marsha Weaver, he said.
On many Christmas Eves, there would be no one at the dinner table because everyone was out on a fire call.
“There were a lot of Thanksgivings where we would just be sitting down to eat and the alarm would ring,” agreed Sandy Rosatti. “That's what makes me so proud of them. It didn't matter what they were doing, they would always go out on the call.”
She said she never worries when her boys are on a fire call.
Instead, she prays.
Chahin said Rosatti came to him right after a stent was inserted into his chest to clear a coronary artery.
The chief had a list of questions written on a napkin. First up: When could he return to the fire station?
“The kind of work he does is dangerous,” the doctor said. “I told him take it easy for a month.”
That means more paperwork and more missed fire calls for Rosatti.
It also means he can't drive and can't return to his day job in maintenance at the state prison in Hempfield.
Although Rosatti said he is already getting restless, he plans to do exactly what the doctor says.
He is re-examining his diet and exercise routine. He's talked to the entire department about getting healthier.
He joked that maybe he will replace the chip machines at the fire station with fruit. “Something happens to the fire chief, things might change,” he said.
The Forbes Road department, formally known as Salem Township Volunteer Fire Department No. 2, has 65 people on its roster with 20 to 25 active members, ranging in age from 20 to 77.
Last year, they fielded more than 600 calls.
It covers half of Salem Township and its sister station in Slickville covers the other half, although they collaborate on many calls.
“It's a fantastic organization,” said Bob Rosatti, who serves as emergency management coordinator for the township. “I don't like to see people in trouble but get a huge satisfaction going out to help people.”
Bosio believes that's what sets Bob Rosatti apart.
“He's unselfish. He gives his time and talent to anyone who is in need,” Bosio said. “We all do, but it seems he goes just a little bit further.”
Michele Stewardson is a freelance writer.
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