Pa. fire chief to hang up his white hat

December 23, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - He has responded to more than 14,000 alarms, updated his company's trucks and equipment and once gave a firetruck to a poor rural Tennessee community. Now, Nick Barbuzanes says it's time to retire as chief of the Mercersburg, Montgomery, Peters and Warren Fire Co.

His last day will be Dec. 31, a day that will end 36 years of fighting fires, nearly 28 at MMP&W and 21 there as its chief.

If he responds to a fire on that day, it will be the last of his life. "I'm done altogether after that. I can walk away knowing that I've done a good job. It's time to step down now. I've missed too many family dinners and holidays. It's time to make it up to my wife and children. They deserve it," Barbuzanes, 55, said Tuesday.


The MMP&W Fire Co. is governed by a board of directors comprised of two members each from Mercersburg Borough and the townships of Montgomery, Peters and Warren.

Dave Cook, a board member representing Warren Township, said Barbuzanes will be missed "by the whole community. He's done a lot. He saved a lot of property and a lot of lives. Night or day, he's there. I hate to see him go."

Cook said Barbuzanes saved the four communities money because of his skills in repairing the trucks and equipment in the department. "He does all the repairs on the firetrucks," he said.

Barbuzanes, who runs a part-time business repairing and maintaining fire apparatus and equipment, said he is taking a full-time job with a fire equipment repair firm in Hagerstown.

One of three paid drivers in the Mercersburg department, Barbuzanes makes $100 a month above his driver's salary as chief. He succeeded C. Edward Snyder as chief in 1983.

Until nine years ago, he lived across the street from the fire station. His house today is only a few blocks away.

"I don't want to blow my own horn, but I've responded to 98 percent of the calls over the years. I've given 110 percent and my family suffered for it," he said.

Barbuzanes grew up in Greencastle, Pa., the son of Nick Barbuzanes Sr., at one time the community's ambulance chief. Nick Jr. was a member of the Rescue Hose Co. No. 1 in Greencastle until he moved to Mercersburg and joined there.

The MMP&W Fire Co. covers 157 square miles, Barbuzanes said.

When he joined the company in 1977 it had mostly outdated and obsolete equipment. "It was all in bad shape and it all needed upgrading," he said.

The department today has a fleet of modern, custom-built Sutphen pumpers, tankers and a tower unit. Its auxiliary equipment is also up-to-date, he said.

"I worked hard to get it here," he said.

In February 2000, the fire department, under Barbuzanes' direction, donated a 1963 Seagraves ladder truck to a poor rural department in Campbell County, Tennessee.

The MMP&W is governed by an eight-member board of directors made up of two members from each participating community.

Barbuzanes said the four jurisdictions contribute a total of about $125,000 to the fire company, all of which is funneled through the fire board.

"They are the governing body of the fire company," Barbuzanes said.

A controversy is surfacing in the wake of his retirement as the company's volunteers want the right to name their own fire chief, he said.

Cook said the board of directors will continue its policy of appointing fire chiefs for the department.

The fire department was organized in 1885 as the Eclipse Fire Co. of Mercersburg. In 1925, its name was changed to the Mercersburg Fire Co., according to a department history. Later, the history doesn't say what year, it became the Community Fire Co. of Mercersburg.

The board of directors was organized in 1942, the year the department was renamed the Mercersburg, Montgomery, Peters and Warren Fire Co., the history said.

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