When Gil Damiani left a teaching and coaching career at Ajo High School in 1980 to begin working for the Mesa Fire Department, he said it was for monetary reasons.
But not long after he began working for the Mesa Fire Department on Sept. 1, 1980, the job became his passion and his trademark.
“I was making $13,500 as a teacher, and I figured if I could make $500 more a year, that would be pretty good,” said Damiani, a native of Chicago Heights, who was one of 12 children and worked his way up to assistant chief of the department.
In the Centennial Room of the Mesa Convention Center on Tuesday — what Damiani said was his last day on the job — about 300 people, including his family and friends, colleagues and counterparts from fire departments throughout the Valley attended a retirement party for him. Damiani’s mother, Ada, who flew in from Illinois, also was in attendance.
Numerous Mesa fire and police officials, who described Damiani as a symbol of dedication and professionalism who had his priorities in the right place and a cornerstone of the department, presented him with gifts of appreciation. Chief Harry Beck gave him an ax and former longtime Chief John Oliver presented him with the department seal — both symbols of a successful career.
Damiani worked his way up from firefighter to various supervisory positions, including chief of operations, and was well known for helping oversee the emergency management division.
Overall, the Damiani family has seven members, including his son Tony, sister Mary Cameli (also an assistant fire chief for Mesa) and cousin Sandy Novelli, (a 32-year firefighter in Phoenix) who work for fire departments throughout the Valley.
“It’s been a great career,” an emotional Damiani said during the end of a long line of people who spoke about his career. “You’ve all had an impact on my life.”