Airport fire chief to receive service award from Latrobe Area Chamber of Commerce
After working with him for almost 30 years, Youngstown fire Chief Barry Banker said Gabe Monzo uses his leadership in the department and the community to solve problems.
“True problem-solvers are hard to come by,” Banker said. “Gabe doesn't bring you problems, he brings you solutions.”
Monzo, 57, of Unity will be presented with the 2013 Community Service Award from the Latrobe Area Chamber of Commerce at its annual dinner on Oct. 29.
Interim Executive Director Wayne Petrosky said Monzo was chosen because of his dedication to the area.
“He has so many different avenues that he's been involved in,” Petrosky said. “He presents himself in such a positive fashion in everything he does.”
Monzo has served as executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority since 2008.
“I appreciate everything that the chamber does and certainly appreciate the accolades,” he said.
After growing up in Wilmerding, Monzo and his family moved to Unity in 1960. He graduated from Greater Latrobe High School in 1973, then went to work as a machinist and pipe fitter for Standard Steel.
About that time, he joined Latrobe Fire Department Company No. 6 since he would work shifts at the mill then have time off the following day.
Monzo said after a series of incidents with fire when he was a child, he was afraid of any blaze, but later wanted to face his fear.
“The more I learned about it, the less I was afraid of it,” he said, instead gaining respect for it.
Monzo boasts a 38-year history of service with firefighting, including as the deputy assistant for Youngstown Volunteer Fire Department.
Banker said Monzo leads by example, and can use his business savvy and knowledge of firefighting to be persuasive.
“He shows you how to do it instead of commanding you how to do it,” Banker said. “When he speaks, people listen.”
When the Federal Aviation Administration required the airport to begin a fire department in 1983, Monzo was laid off from the mill and decided to use his skills to “fit the bill” in the maintenance department, he said.
In 1985, then-manager Gene Lakin asked if Monzo wanted to try his hand as assistant manager.
“He said, ‘Well, try it for six months,' and the rest was history,'” Monzo said.
In 1998, he was promoted to manager and recognized as Airport Manager of the Year by the state Department of Transportation Bureau of Aviation. In 2008, he was appointed as executive director of the authority.
He said he can remember when the runway was only 5,500 feet long, compared to today's 8,224 feet, and the control tower was a trailer on a rack, a “homemade situation,” he called it.
Monzo has served as fire chief at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport for 18 years and is a certified Senior Aircraft Rescue Specialist with the American Association of Airport Executives.
He credits mentors like former Latrobe fire Chief Earl Dalton and Greensburg fire Chief Ed Hutchinson for the way he has conducted himself as a firefighter, calling the organizations “tight-knit” and “straightforward.”
In addition to local disasters like the 1977 Johnstown flood and tornado through Latrobe's Turney Plan in the late 1970s, Monzo said working to repair Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina was particularly memorable.
“Such devastation,” he said of the week he spent with three other area firefighters. “I've never seen hurricane damage before. We went down there and hit the ground running.”
As years passed, Monzo couldn't haul equipment into fires because of his age, so he began serving on the Unity Township Planning Commission 15 years ago.
“I thought I could represent a good safety-minded person,” he said.
Monzo has served as a member of the Latrobe Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and is a new member of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau board.
He and his wife Linda have been married 38 years, and they have three adult children.
“She's my moral barometer, she makes sure I do right; a great lady,” he said.
The dinner is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Fred M. Rogers Center of St. Vincent College with a social hour at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets cost $75 for the dinner, which includes a keynote presentation by former Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Randy Grossman, and are available by calling the chamber office at 724-537-2671.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.