For the last few days of Pedro Gaztanaga's life, he had friends by his side.
"Somebody was there most of the time," said Jeff Miller, one of three York City firefighters who came to know him over the years. "He was like a brother to us."
That friendship grew out of Gaztanaga's stopping by the Rex/Laurel fire station at 49 S. Duke St. while walking his shih tzu, Miracle.
Gaztanaga's visits to the station started about 10 years ago, said firefighter Bill Sleeger.
He'd usually pop by daily around shift change so he could say hi and share a few words with firefighters.
Gaztanaga died April 29 after a losing fight with lung cancer. He was 61.
Cooking: During one of his visits to the station, Gaztanaga asked if he could cook with the firefighters. And cook he did.
Gaztanaga's dishes became coveted treasures, said firefighter Keith Ramsey. So much so, firefighters on other shifts would eagerly ask when Gaztanaga would cook for them.
"He enjoyed cooking, and we enjoyed eating it," Ramsey said.
The station would smell of garlic from Gaztanaga's well-known shrimp scampi for a couple days, Ramsey recalled.
If a call came in while the firefighters were cooking, Gaztanaga would stick around and finish the dishes. When firefighters were called out while eating, they'd grab a few extra bites before heading for the engines, and Gaztanaga would put the food in an oven to keep it warm.
Sometimes firefighters would still be chewing as the trucks rolled out of the station, Ramsey said.
Cancer: Gaztanaga lived in an apartment behind the fire station and was known throughout the neighborhood, Miller said.
"A lot of people downtown knew him, saw him," Miller said.
Gaztanaga was a former Air France flight attendant and got to tour parts of the world. He was fluent in four or five languages and, while born in Cuba, he didn't have a Spanish accent when he spoke English, something he took pride in, Miller said.
Gaztanaga fought cancer once before. A few years ago he battled the disease into remission, Sleeger said.
About a month ago, he became sick again. Without family in the area, the firefighters -- his friends -- were there to help, and took him to doctor's appointments and out to get groceries.
Friends: Gaztanaga wasn't one to complain about the illness and gave Miller, Sleeger and Ramsey varying full details of the cancer. When the three men got to together and talked about it, they realized how serious Gaztanaga's condition was, Ramsey said.
When Gaztanaga had problems getting around, Miller installed hand rails and helped out around his apartment.
"It's what you would do for family. It's how we felt about him," Miller said.
Before Gaztanaga died, he had concerns about who would take care of Miracle. Miller offered to take care of the dog, and Miracle now lives with him.
In the course of firefighters' careers, they get to know the people who live and work near the fire station. But its rare for such a friendship as the one Gaztanaga shared with Miller, Sleeger and Ramsey, to form, the three firefighters said.
"In a round-about way, we adopted each other as family," Ramsey said.
-- Reach Greg Gross at 505-5434, email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/greggrss.