Moor or Less
2:34 AM AKST, February 10, 2013
Editor’s note: Due to a technical error, the following column did not run in its entirety last Sunday. The Tribune regrets the error.
When Jeff Regina was 6 years old, he remembers a fire truck racing by his grandparents’ home and seeing his Uncle Gary — Mishawaka firefighter Gary Dentino — riding on it.
Jeff, now 51, and his family knew the truck was coming even before the siren. “Grandpa and Grandma had a scanner and always knew when the fire department was called out,” he says.
Grandpa — the late George Dentino – — was a Mishawaka firefighter, too, from 1942 to 1968. So was his father-in-law, George “Cappy’ Groh, from 1922 until 1953.
And for the last 20 years, Jeff and his two younger brothers, Mark and Larry Regina, have served together on the Mishawaka Fire Department.
“They say you can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting a Regina,” says Larry, a newly named captain and the youngest of the Regina brothers at age 43.
So the three brothers join their Uncle Gary, their Grandpa George and their Great-Grandpa Cappy as a four-generation family of firefighters.
“I don’t know if any of us really talked about being firefighters when we were growing up,” says 50-year-old Mark, the middle brother who was the first of them to join the department 25 years ago. “The family tradition really didn’t hit me until I started doing the job.”
Jeff and Larry joined the department on the same day 20 years ago. Jeff had been a schoolteacher while Larry came out of Mishawaka High School trained as an auto mechanic.
All three Regina brothers were able to serve with their Uncle Gary, an assistant chief who retired in 2000 after 32 years with the department.
They know their family is proud of them — their mom especially. “She would tell us how she remembered our grandpa going off to work in his dress uniform, carrying his lunch and walking from their home on Prairie Avenue to the station on Brook (and Lincoln Way),” says Jeff, a new lieutenant.
Back then, she was a little girl idolizing her dad. Then later, she was a mom feeling the same kind of pride while watching her own boys follow in her father’s footsteps.
Connie (Dentino) Regina died of brain cancer in 2001. “One of the best side benefits of our jobs was that with our different work schedules, we (brothers) were able to take turns helping our dad take care of mom at home,” Jeff adds.
Her sons all enjoy their jobs, especially when it comes to helping people. But they all have had their scary and heart-breaking moments, too.
Larry was one of the first firefighters on the scene when a little boy died after crawling into an electrical box on a Thanksgiving night. Jeff carried one of the four children out of a Union Street fire in 1996 that claimed the lives of two of them. Mark had to be pulled out of a fire by a buddy after his oxygen failed.
And their Uncle Gary was literally blown out a front door by an explosive fire.
“But there isn’t a more fulfilling job,” Gary says. “I enjoyed almost every second of it.”
When he first started, his father was in the last year of his career. “I remember being at the same fire as him and one of the other guys saying, ‘Hey, your old man is up on the ceiling. You want to give him a douse with the hose?’”
Gary might have thought about it for a second but passed on the offer. That was his blood up there. And blood is thicker than water — even when it comes out of a high-pressure fire hose.
Gary’s three nephews — and the other Mishawaka firefighters — are 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on and then four days off.
“My wife loves those hours,” Larry says with a smile. “It gives her plenty of her own time. She keeps telling her girlfriend that she should meet a firefighter.”
Ironically, the three brothers don’t meet up with each other very much these days since they all work different shifts and at different stations. “But when it comes right down to it, we’re also like brothers with the other guys we work with after spending 24 hours a day with them,” Mark says.
It’s obviously a family affair, especially for this trio of fourth-generation firefighters.
Retired Tribune columnist Bill Moor writes a weekly column for Community. Contact him at email@example.com.
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