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Local Firefighter Remembered for Efforts After 9/11

By Chris Baumann
The Tube City Almanac
November 01, 2019
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News, White Oak News

Versailles volunteer firefighter Nick Ursta, then a volunteer from White Oak, responded to New York City following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (Submitted photo)

When the towers of the World Trade Center fell on Sept. 11, 2001, volunteer firefighter Nick Ursta didn't wait, says his friend Perry Gricar.

“He didn’t even think twice about going, just beelined and was right out there,” says Gricar, chief of the Versailles Volunteer Fire Co., who served alongside Ursta for 14 years. “He was a very selfless person, the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back, who you could call at 3 a.m. Just an all around genuine, great person.”

Ursta died Tuesday --- on his 52nd birthday --- of complications of mesothelioma. Family and friends believe he developed the form of cancer after a week of breathing the toxins in the air at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

His wife, Margaret, who survives him, accompanied Ursta on the trip to New York in 2001, and also helped with the rescue efforts. Ursta was a member of the former White Oak Rescue Squad at the time.

“I love him,” says Marty Griffin, a talk-show host at KDKA (1020) radio. “He became like family.”

Griffin, who survived a battle with throat cancer, says he and Ursta bonded over their shared fight against the disease.

“He bought this house in Versailles,” Griffin says. “He got the house and started to rebuild it with his own hands. That was his dream in life.”

When Ursta became too sick to finish the house on his own, Griffin used his website, Sparkt, to help organize an effort to get “friends and folks who cared to rebuild the house.”

Companies from the area, including Matt Mertz Plumbing, Levin Furniture, Molyneaux and 84 Lumber assisted in making Ursta’s dream of rebuilding his home come true. Griffin also says Maury Burgwin of the Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce “did so much for us.”

“Nick wanted to be in that house before he died,” Griffin says. Ursta spent his final night watching Monday night's Steelers game with Margaret, his wife of 25 years, in the house that he loved. 

“We’ve had a lot of help from Marty Griffin,” Gricar says. “Everybody has given amazing support. It’s unbelievable, the brotherhood goes a very long way.”

The efforts of the community to repay Ursta for his selflessness did not stop at renovating his house, as a GoFundMe page to pay for Ursta’s funeral started by Patrick O’Connor of McKeesport raised over $11,000 dollars just 24 hours after launching. The goal for the fundraiser was $10,000.

Ursta’s funeral will take place this weekend, with a viewing from 2 to 8 p.m. today (Nov. 1) at Striffler Funeral Home, 1100 Lincoln Way, White Oak.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church, 410 Sixth St., Downtown, followed by interment in Penn Lincoln Memorial Park, North Huntingdon Twp.

Gricar says McKeesport firefighters will covering Versailles Volunteer Fire Co.’s calls on Saturday so Ursta’s fellow firefighters can attend his church service.

“He will surely be missed,” Gricar says. “We lost a family member and a brother.”

Christopher Baumann is a freelance writer from Gibsonia. He may be reached at baumannc90@gmail.com.

Originally published November 01, 2019.

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