BOARDMAN, Ohio (WYTV) – The crowd that showed up for Wednesday’s calling hours of Youngstown Battalion Fire Chief Ron Russo was the largest in the 100-year history of Rossi Brothers and Lellio funeral home in Boardman. It was a testament, not only to what Ron Russo meant to the Youngstown area but also to the camaraderie of firefighting.
An estimated 3,500 people made their way through the funeral home.
“Our family’s been in the funeral business for 100 years but this is probably the biggest funeral I’ve ever seen. Bigger than my father’s and even what they call ‘line of duty deaths’ for policemen or firemen,” Joe Rossi said.
Everywhere you looked, there were firefighters in dress blues. Boardman’s ladder truck showed up and since these firemen were on duty, they were ushered to the front of the line.
You could only see part of that line from the outside of the funeral home. It wound through the entire building — the wait was as long as three hours.
Battalion Chief Gary Ditullio said he wasn’t surprised by the turnout.
“Ron reached out everywhere in the community.”
Russo was killed Friday when his motorcycle crashed with a van in Ashtabula County. He was a Youngstown fireman for 37 years.
“Wonderful man, great person. And to our benefit, a great firefighter, chief, officer — couldn’t ask for any better,” Youngstown Fire Chief John O’Neill said.
Ditullio said Russo was extremely passionate about what he did for a living.
“He loved firefighting but even more so, Ron was a tremendous family man.”
Rossi now helps run the funeral home but he, too, was a Youngstown firefighter for over 30 years.
“The fire bond is a family,” he said.
He understands why so many firefighters showed up.
“You’re with these gentlemen for 24 hours of your shift and it’s just a family. You eat together, sleep together, talk together, laugh and cry together,” Rossi said.
For those in the Youngstown Fire Department, it has been a tough few days.
“I mean, we’re grieving right now and it’s quiet around the stations. Kind of tough to take,” O’Neill said. “It’s a shock. It’s not just something we would ever want for anyone — Ronnie or anyone — to have such a long, great career and have it go like this.”
Russo’s funeral is scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m. at Poland United Methodist Church on Route 224. There will be a procession of fire trucks with Squad 33, on which Ron spent most of his career, leading the way. His battalion chief’s vehicle will follow at the end.