Giovanni ‘John’ Capillo was born on February 19, 1886, in Scilla, Calabria, the son of Bruno Capillo, a sailor, and Maria Fedele. He had two younger brothers: Pasquale (Pat), and Antonio (Tony). John was only 9 years old when his family decided to emigrate to America. They arrived at Ellis Island on June 1, 1895, after a very long trip from Calabria to Liguria, then weeks of sailing from Genoa to New York, traveling in steerage. They moved to 148 Mulberry Street, in Little Italy.
On December 16, 1906, Giovanni married Rose Romano, and they had seven children: Angela in 1907, Joe in 1908, Dominick in 1911, John in 1912, Mary in 1915, Edward in 1916, and Rosemary in 1920. All 7 children were born and raised in the same home in Woodhaven, Queens.
Brothers John and Pat joined the fire department. John became a captain, and founded the very first Italian-American Fire Fighters guild in New York City, the Columbia Association. On March 23, 1934, John J, McElligott, Fire Chief and Commissioner, and Deputy Fire Commissioner Francis Giaccone approved a request made by Captain Capillo regarding his concern about the serious losses of life from recent fires in tenement houses, especially among Italian immigrants. He formed a group of fire department members of Italian extraction who could understand and speak the Italian language, and adopted a set of simple rules, which would instruct new immigrants on what to do in case of a fire. The original group present on that day was composed by: Commissioner Giaccone, Captain Capillo, Lieutenant Nicholas J. DiGiacomo of Engine 66, Fireman Anthony Pepe of Engine 17, and Fireman Charles Pentola of Engine 19.
Eight months later, on November 19, 1934, Fire Captain John Capillo, commander of Engine Company 28, died in his office on the second floor of the fire house at 604 East Eleventh Street. He responded to a fire the day before and suffered from severe smoke inhalation.
The Columbia Association of the New York City Fire Department continued with their mission, promoting a high level of competence and skill in the performance of their members. Today, they also support better education for children by awarding scholarships every year, and promote the Italian heritage and culture.