Colleagues celebrate, honor 6-decade Pa. fire chief
After serving as fire chief since 1953, J. Edward Hutchinson recently announced he would not seek a 22nd term
By Mary Pickels
GREENSBURG, Pa. — It was standing room only Tuesday night, as Greensburg fire Chief J. Edward Hutchinson presided over his troops for the last time.
There were no tears, and the air only occasionally turned blue with his trademark salty language.
Dozens of firefighters filled the city's No. 2 station social hall. Many stepped forward to have a photo taken with “Hutch,” as he's popularly known, or to shake his hand.
“Any place you look in this city, he was involved. He was a good a chief, an excellent chief,” said department treasurer Glenn Thomas.
“He took control at a fire scene and the firefighters all listened to him,” said Jim Buscaglio, board president.
After serving as fire chief since 1953, Hutchinson recently announced he would not seek a 22nd term.
For almost an hour Hutchinson, who will turn 95 later this month, regaled his crew with a review of the department's history and accomplishments.
“If I swear, don't print it,” he admonished a reporter.
Firefighters, familiar with their leader's proclivity for colorful language, chuckled.
Noah Burda, 17, a junior firefighter with No. 6 station, said his perception of Hutchinson was that he was “passionate” about firefighting.
“If you do something wrong, he'll tell you. If you do something right, he'll tell you,” Burda said.
Keon Winters, 19, a probationary firefighter with No. 6 station, agreed.
The chief's tenure is inspiring to younger firefighters, he said.
“Honestly, it's kind of amazing to me that he's still doing it, and that he's as active as he is,” Winters said.
Hutchinson commended the firefighters, advising them to take care of their health and crediting them for their contributions.
His own efforts included founding one of the state's first dive-rescue teams, now a swift-water rescue team, as well as the local bloodhound team, and helping to start the Mutual Aid Ambulance Service.
He led fundraising efforts to build the city's The Aerobic Center fitness facility and indoor pool.
And he helped to establish the Five Star Trail, an extensive walking and biking trail stretching from Greensburg to Youngwood.
Hutchinson looked proudly out at the crowd, acknowledging the department's many accomplishments.
“Don't forget, you guys helped build that,” he said.
Although no records document fire chiefs' service histories, Hutchinson is believed to be the longest-serving active chief in the state — maybe the country.
The baton will be passed, with the department's nearly 300 members voting on a new chief before city council has final say.
But Tuesday night belonged to “Hutch.”
With a smile and a wave, he stood.
And his crew rose with him, applauding with gusto as he headed out the door.
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