The wail of bagpipes being played in the rain signaled the somber start of the memorial service at Eagle Matt-Lee firehouse for former fire chief Paul Ziggy LaGalles, 44, who died Sunday, Jan. 6, at Saratoga Hospital. He had been receiving cancer treatments for some time.
An enormous American flag hung as high as utility lines and nearly grazing the street below represented the magnitude of grief shown by fellow firefighters from Ballston Spa and many towns beyond. More than 100 people, many wearing the full dress uniform of fire fighters, right down to the spotless white gloves, filled the company firehouse Friday morning, Jan. 11. The normally utilitarian working firehouse was transformed into a sanctuary, with gray carpeting, soft lights, photographs of LaGalles and friends, and vases spilling over with red roses, white carnations and yellow daisies. One arrangement had a tiny toy fire truck at its base. The centerpiece of the ceremony was the ladder truck, draped with pleated cloth and more flowers. Nearby, open lockers displayed neatly stacked fire gear, the helmets, boots and breathing apparatus firefighters put on at a moment's notice.
Walking resolutely to the microphone at the front of the room, fellow firefighters spoke so movingly about LaGalles that most of those gathered were reduced to tears, and the men used their white gloves to wipe away signs of weeping.
Mike Morrissey grew up near LaGalles, and shared poignant stories from their childhoods.
"I've been trying to remember the first time we met, but my first childhood memories included Paul," said Morrissey.
"Wherever Paul went, my brother and I went. We took fishing trips to Schroon Lake, we took Chevy engines out of cars and put them back in in less than an hour. We never knew how much those experiences would shape us. The three of us rose through the ranks together, achieving our childhood dreams of being fire chiefs, all because we had a friend whose name is Paul LaGalles."