WALLINGFORD — The children of Ralph Habersang knew when their father’s clothing reeked of smoke and his face was black with ash in the morning that he’d been fighting a fire the night before. He had a love for battling fires and, according to his son, he usually won.
Habersang died Tuesday after a short illness at the age of 87. He was a lifelong town resident and a member of the Wallingford Fire Department for 28 years, rising through the ranks to become fire chief. He leaves behind five children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Born in 1926, Habersang graduated Lyman Hall High School. He served in the Navy during World War II, where he witnessed the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. After returning from the war, he joined the Wallingford Fire Department as a call-man in 1947 and was appointed to the department in 1948. He was appointed chief in 1971, a position he served in for five years.
According to his son, Mark Habersang of Clinton, his father’s best days were when he was fighting a fire.
“Fighting a fire, he was right there with the hose and no problem putting on the air pack, going in and doing battle,” he said. “That was a big piece of who he was.”
His son said that after becoming chief, Habersang longed to be back on the front lines fighting fires.
“He missed that part of it because he liked being out there,” he said.
Retired firefighter and town resident Sal Cricco worked with Ralph Habersang for 15 years.
“I was proud to have served under him,” Cricco said. He remembers Habersang as a chief who was always very fair.
“As a person, he was very sociable, very easy going,” Cricco said, “but when it came to taking care of his men, he did that when he had to.”
Town resident Joe Severino was hired by Habersang while he was chief. He recalled a time when he failed to receive one of his paychecks and went to his boss for help. He said Ralph Habersang took a paycheck of his own, signed it and gave it to him.
“He was a wonderful guy,” Severino said.
Although he loved serving his community, daughter Anne Zagryn of Middletown said his primary focus was his family. He was married to his wife, Susan Roy Habersang, for 59 years until she died in 2010. After her death, Zagryn said her father focused on his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, trying to spend as much time with them as possible.
“He was the center of our family, the sun in our universe,” Zagryn said. “Just a fabulous family man.”
Habersang was also a skilled carpenter. Following his career with the fire department, he ran Habersang Construction Co. for many years.
At the time of his death, Mark Habersang said his father was worried about an unfinished project in the basement.
“I was like, don’t worry dad, I’ll finish it for you,” he said.
He said the unfinished project felt almost like a final test, to see if he had been paying attention over the years. Although Mark Habersang called himself a rough carpenter, he was happy to be given the chance to complete the job and carry on his father’s legacy.
“He’s the example that I want to live up to,” he said.
Services for Ralph Habersang are scheduled for Sept. 6 at the Wallingford Funeral Home, 809 North Main St. Ext. The family requested memorial donations be made to the Church of Resurrection, 115 Pond Hill Road, or to the “Closer to Free Fund,” at the Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven.