Large crowd says goodbye to late Youngstown Battalion fire chief


POLAND, Ohio (WYTV) – Years ago, before the age of electronic radio communication, a bell was rung for Youngstown firefighters to signal a fire call. Thursday, that bell rang for the very last time for a longtime Valley firefighter.

The casket of Youngstown Fire Department Battalion Chief Ron Russo was carried from the Poland United Methodist Church Thursday afternoon following a funeral service before a crowded sanctuary of friends, family and fellow firefighters from Youngstown and the surrounding area.

Attendees included Youngstown Mayor John McNally, Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene and dozens of local firefighters from the area.

Chief John O’Neill called it a fitting tribute.

“I think it was the perfect mix of fire service and all of his friends and family that he has. He was one of those people that sometime or another was friends with somebody. They all came,” said Chief John O’Neill.

Following services, a procession traveled past the central fire station downtown and then to the cemetery in Austintown.

Youngstown firefighters stood at attention outside Fire Station number 1 while the procession passed by. The hearse, family, friends, and Russo’s old truck, Squad 33 drove by.

Captain Donald Price took in the solemn moment and thought of the department with a heavy heart.

“Sad moment for the city because Chief Russo truly loved the city. He represented the fire department well everywhere he went,” Price said.

It’s always an emotional ceremony for fire companies. Russo was an award-winning firefighter. Firefighter Wilbert Mullins remembers his cooking.

“I’m good with ribs. I never got the chance to bump heads with him on ribs because I was just happy with what he made me as far as Italian dishes. I learned a lot of cooking skills from him,” Mullins said.

A group of students training to be firefighters at MCCTC were there to watch and pay respects. Then, Brian Hoffman gave them a tour of the fire station, just as he knew Ron Russo would’ve done.

“I learned a lot from him about being an officer and trying to pass on what I learned from him, which is being a good leader and always treat people with respect,” Hoffman said.

Respect is what the city and fire department were showing for Ron Russo.

“It’s not going to be the same. We are going to miss him – a lot,” Mullins said.

A ladder truck with flags sat at the Greenhaven Cemetery in Austintown as the procession arrived, and firefighters rang that last alarm for their fallen chief.

O’Neill said his department is going to have to regroup now and adjust to not having their friend on the job with them.

“Come tomorrow, we still have a job to do, and I am sure he wouldn’t want us to be distracted,” O’Neill said.

Russo worked for the Youngstown Fire Department for 37 years. He died Friday in a motorcycle crash in Ashtabula County.

WYTV has set up an online form for viewers to leave memories of how Battalion Chief Russo has touched their lives, as well as messages of condolence for the family.

Leave your message below (If you are viewing this on the WYTV app, click here to view the online memory book on WYTV.com):