OXFORD — The no-nonsense demeanor Gary Sacco displayed during his tenure as New Gloucester’s fire chief hid a big-hearted man who watched over his firefighters and had a soft spot for dogs.

Gary Sacco

“Depending on how people were faced with Gary, they could come up quick and say, ‘He’s just a gruff man,’ and he was, on the professional front,” said New Gloucester Fire Capt. Scott Doyle, a longtime colleague, neighbor and friend.

“On the personal front, he had one of the biggest hearts of anyone I would ever know.”

Sacco, 63, died Sunday in Portland after having a medical problem near the Holiday Inn by the Bay on Spring Street. Sacco’s death was the second in just over a week for Maine’s firefighting community. He was among the thousands of firefighters who were lining the street on a cold and snowy morning before the service at Cross Insurance Arena for Berwick Fire Capt. Joel Barnes, who died fighting a fire in Berwick on March 1.

Sacco had retired from New Gloucester in 2015, but two years ago he came out of retirement to become the Oxford fire chief.

On Monday, fire trucks escorted the hearse carrying Sacco from Maine Medical Center in Portland to Fortin Funeral Home in Auburn. Sacco’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris, the Oxford Fire and Rescue Department said in a post on its Facebook page Monday.

While Sacco always made it clear he was the boss, he had his share of big-hearted, joyful moments.

Sacco’s big heart shone when dogs entered the New Gloucester fire station. Doyle said it was common to see Sacco on his hands and knees, greeting every dog that wandered into the department. Sacco kept a box of treats at the back of the station.

“You could instantly see Gary’s demeanor change,” Doyle said. “For 30 seconds, he became Gary again. Then he’d go back to being chief.”

Sacco started his career as a call company firefighter in South Portland in the 1970s. He joined the New Gloucester Fire Department in 1996, rising up the ranks from lieutenant to deputy chief.

He was hired as New Gloucester’s first full-time chief in 2007, and retired from the New Gloucester Fire Department in 2015. He then began a short-lived retirement in Florida.

“That grew old really quick on him because he wanted to be up here,” Doyle said. “These are his people. Along with his wife, Sandy, it’s where his family is, and all his friends. For them to be away from that, and see what’s going on up here, I know it ate at them enough to say, ‘Let’s go back home.’”

In June 2017, Sacco was hired as the Oxford fire chief. Current Oxford Town Manager Butch Asselin said Sacco brought much-needed stability and expertise to the department.

“He was the right person at the right time,” Asselin said. “The Fire Department was going through some turmoil, and he brought everybody back down to earth. He was able to get everyone working together, and now he’s got a great department.”

Asselin said Sacco was hired as fire chief a few months before Asselin was hired as town manager.

“The interim manager, Rebecca Lippincott, did a real good job of hiring Gary,” Asselin said. “He was such a rare find. I wish I could have taken the credit for it. He was just a remarkable individual.

“I’ve worked with a number of fire chiefs in my time, and Gary is by far the best. He brought a lot of things to the table, and he genuinely cared about the people that worked for him.”

Doyle said a core tenet of Sacco’s leadership was family – inside and outside of the station.

“As far as leadership goes, Chief Sacco’s main thing was ‘everyone goes home,’” Doyle said. “We train safely, we train appropriately so that we can all go home to our families.

“Same thing when the tone goes off. We respond appropriately, professionally, we do the job at hand, we do it as methodically as we can so that we can all go back home to our families. Family was always No. 1 from him to us; meaning, don’t go on the call if you have a sick kid at the house. It was always family first.”

Condolences may be shared atwww.thefortingroupauburn.com

Visiting hours will be held at Fortin in Auburn on Friday from 5-9 p.m.  A funeral service  will take place at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School 256 Main St. South Paris, on Saturday at 11 a.m.  In lieu of flowers, the family asks that charitable contributions be made to the Oxford Fireman’s Association 701 Main St. Oxford, ME 04270 to support the Oxford, Poland and New Gloucester Fire & Rescue Depts.

This story was updated at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, 2019, to include details on funeral arrangements.

Portland Press Herald reporters Dennis Hoey and J. Craig Anderson contributed to this report.

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