McKeesporters mourn neighbor's fiery death
An elderly man affectionately known in his neighborhood as “Ace” perished Saturday when a fire swept through the McKeesport home where he had lived for nearly six decades.
Neighbors and family members identified him as Robert Gaska, 87, of 424 Archer St. in McKeesport's Upper 10th Ward. He had lived in the home since September 1954 and was found dead in the basement.
“He was great with kids,” neighbor Tom Bills said. “On Halloween, he would stand outside and give kids little bags of money instead of giving them candy. He was kind, just an all-around good guy. It's a shame that it ended like this.”
One of Gaska's neighbors, McKeesport firefighter Jay Pravdica, was among those who attempted to reach him upon spotting the fire before daybreak.
“The fire had a significant start before being noticed, and the first reports were from neighbors who were getting up for work,” Allegheny County Chief of Emergency Services Alvin Henderson said. “In this season, if you smell wood burning, you would assume someone has a wood burner going. That has a tendency to mask an early report of a fire.”
Most of the damage was on the basement level extending to the first floor, Henderson said. Officials determined that the fire started in the basement, and the cause does not appear to be suspicious, he said.
A representative of Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office said Sunday that Gaska's autopsy was complete, but determinations on the cause and manner of death were pending.
Gaska was a lifelong McKeesporter who grew up on Jenny Lind Street and lived in several city homes before settling in the Upper 10th Ward.
Duane Gaska, who lives in Port Vue, returned to his father's home almost daily.
“Because of the weather we had, I didn't make it up here yesterday after a long day at work,” Duane Gaska said, fighting back tears. “I would have been here today anyway. Saturday was my workday here to change his bedding, clean up after him and see what groceries he needed … the normal help you would give to an elderly person.”
Resident Michelle Trail said the whole neighborhood kept an eye on Robert Gaska.
“We would see him outside and start calling each other to see what he was up to,” Trail said. “He's been here forever … for as long as I know.”
Trail remembers Gaska coming outside for summer pizza parties with neighborhood children on her Havilla Street porch, which is across the street from his now-destroyed home.
“He was a well-liked guy,” McKeesport fire Chief Kevin Lust said. “Everyone I've talked to has something to say. They all knew him.”
McKeesport firefighters had been dispatched on another call in the city's Christy Park neighborhood when the call came in for the Archer Street fire.
Off-duty crews were called to assist at 5:43 a.m.
“They thought they had it knocked down, but the fire ran up the walls,” Lust said. “The first floor caved in to the basement.”
McKeesport called for assistance from Glassport Citizens Hose Company No. 1 and Liberty Borough Volunteer Fire Company, while Dravosburg and White Oak firefighters held down city stations.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Mon Valley motorists can expect more traffic woes
- Hazelwood man shot in Homestead
- Yankee Doodle Dandies still going strong
- Brewster picked for Smith’s seat on Senate Appropriations Committee
- McKeesport Area students navigate obstacles
- Experts offer Fourth of July safety tips
- Mon Valley region prepares to celebrate Fourth of July in style
- More Mon Valley communities add banners honoring veterans
- Another Lincoln Way project set to begin in White Oak
- Elizabeth Twp. scraps results of Civil Service test
- McKeesport city council OKs Tomovcsik to head fire dept.