Newborn named for fallen firefighter
By Emily Ford
Victor Isler’s name will live on.
Killed in the line of duty Friday while battling the historic Salisbury Millwork blaze, Isler served in the Salisbury Fire Department alongside his childhood friend, Chris Damato.
Salisbury firefighters learned Saturday afternoon that Damato’s wife, Kelly, had delivered a healthy baby boy earlier that morning.
They named the baby Nicholas Victor Damato.
The firefighters erupted into applause and fresh tears when they heard Isler’s namesake.
“Vic will live on with us for many, many years to come,” Batallion Chief David Morris said.
Dozens of firefighters gathered Saturday at the central fire station to remember Isler and Justin Monroe, also killed in the massive blaze on South Railroad Street.
Before moving to North Carolina last year, Isler worked as a medic with the FDNY and served at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center fell on Sept. 11, 2001.
Isler and Damato grew up together on Long Island. They had been friends since the third grade.
When Damato moved to Matthews a few years ago, Isler eventually followed and settled with his wife and two children in Harrisburg.
Isler, 40, wanted to fight fires.
Too old to become a firefighter in New York where the cutoff age is 29, Isler joined the Salisbury Fire Department on June 11, 2007.
A few months later, Damato also applied.
“Is he the right guy for the job?” Morris asked Isler about his childhood friend.
“Absolutely he’s the right guy,” Isler told Morris. “But you have to put him on my shift…It takes a Yankee to keep a Yankee straight.”
Gregarious and outgoing, Isler loved to make people laugh and play pranks, but he took his job seriously. He doted on his children, ages 13 and 15.
One of the oldest firefighters at the central station, Isler also became a father figure for some of the younger recruits.
Firefighter Chris Haynes said a few days ago, Isler was concerned because Haynes had gone to bed early during their 24-hour shift.
Isler went upstairs to check on him.
“He pulled the sheets up on me,” Haynes said. “He covered me up.”
An optimist, Isler learned to do more with less when he moved to the South and joined the fire department, Capt. Buddy Miller said.
Miller risked his own life Friday when he entered the building burning out of control after a mayday call from firefighters trapped inside.
Miller pulled Isler from the blaze. Isler died at Rowan Regional Medical Center.
Miller attempted to re-enter the building to find Monroe but was stopped by other personnel, said Battalion Chief Chris Kepley. Monroe’s body was recovered later.
Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell called Miller a hero Saturday, but Miller said the true hero was gone.
Close to 40 firefighters stood behind Parnell and six firefighters on Saturday as they took turns at the podium, remembering their lost brothers. Many firefighters broke down as they spoke.
“He was one heck of a guy,” Haynes said of Isler. “He gave everything he had to this department.”