CENTENNIAL, Colo. — South Metro Fire Rescue (SMFR) firefighter paramedic Anthony Palato, who recently died from cancer, was a humble man with an amazing belly laugh and a fierce love for his family.
"Tony was dedicated to family," his brother-in-law Steve Dury said during a memorial service. "Family meant everything to him. He loved getting the family together to gather for special events at almost every holiday. He was a central part of each and every gathering and I'm not sure the holidays will ever feel the same."
Palato, known to family and co-workers as Tony, passed away peacefully early Wednesday, said SMFR.
“Tony passed four days after our 9/11 remembrance ceremony at 3:43 in the morning. 343 is the number of New York City firefighters that died on 9/11,” said SMFR Chief Bob Baker during a memorial service on Tuesday.
“It was a harsh reminder to me and a lot of you of our dangerous profession. How precious our time is with our loved ones.”
Palato was unexpectedly diagnosed with an occupational cancerous tumor in 2017, and although he went into remission a few years ago, cancer returned.
Tony was surrounded by a strong support network including his wife, their two daughters, and his second family of firefighters, according to SMFR.
"Tony our humble hero, our hearts are broken," Dury said. "He wouldn't understand why we're doing this for him today. But we know why."
He shared that he lost his own brother to cancer when he was just 12 years old and when he met Palato decades later, he filled that void.
"So I had finally found the brother that had been missing in my life all those years," he said. "Tony did not see me as a brother-in-law. He saw me as a brother. I am blessed to have known Tony but I am more blessed that he filled that void that had been in my life for so long even though it was cut way too short."
Palato began his fire service career with the City of Sheridan Fire Department and later joined the Cunningham Fire Protection District in 2000.
In 2018, Cunningham unified with South Metro Fire Rescue where Tony worked until he medically retired on March 1, 2021.
Jeff Everett is not related to Palato, but said their families were so close when they grew up that he considered him a brother.
"I look at all of you here in just absolute amazement at the impact that my brother had on people's lives. And I told him in the hospital that I was so proud of what he had become, a father, a husband, and the impact he's had on the community. He would be, just wowed, and I know he's looking down right now."
During the service, Dury addressed Palato's daughters and told them their dad is there with them and to find joy in the memories with their father.
"Autumn and Isabella, I know how much your dad wanted to be there for your special moments to come," he said. "Walking you down the aisle. Being there when your kids are born. I only hope that time heals your hearts and that you know that he is always by your side."
"As a paramedic for 21 years, there is no doubt that Tony touched many lives and will be remembered as a kind, caring and compassionate person with a true servant’s heart, he will be greatly missed," said a statement from SMFR.
"Effective immediately, flags will be flown at half-staff at all SMFR facilities and badges worn by SMFR personnel will be shrouded until further notice."
A full honors memorial service and fire apparatus procession for Palato was held Tuesday at Denver First Church at 3800 E. Hampden Ave. in Cherry Hills Village. It was open to the public.
Following the service, an emergency vehicle procession left the church and traveled through Greenwood Village and Centennial.
The procession traveled from the church east to Happy Canyon Road, southeast to Monaco Street, south to Belleview Avenue, east to Quebec Street, south to Dry Creek Road and east until it becomes Havana Street, north to Easter Avenue, east to Peoria Street and south until it becomes Broncos Parkway, east to Potomac Street, north to Arapahoe Road, west to Havana Street, north to Belleview Avenue, west to Yosemite Street, and north to Interstate 225.
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