Homestead's longtime fire chief Purifoy dies
Homestead has lost a dedicated public servant.
Recently retired volunteer fire chief William Purifoy Sr., 53, died on Monday of natural causes at UPMC Mercy, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office said.
“It's a sad time in the borough,” Mayor Betty Esper said on Monday night. “(He was) just a good, quiet person, did his job, fought fires, became the chief. (He was) in and out of burnt houses; who knows how that affected him, inhaling all that stuff.”
“I just think it's a tragedy,” Homestead police Chief Jeff DeSimone said. “What else can you say? Things like that just make you stop and take a deep breath and reflect and thank God for every day you have.”
Purifoy was a detective with District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office.
“For a man of his size, the biggest thing about him was his heart,” Chief of Detectives Dennis Logan said on Monday night. “He had a smile that would warm up a room.”
Logan said Purifoy was always “thorough and very meticulous” in his work with the District Attorney's Vicious Crime and Firearms Task Force, as well as when he was assigned to work with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
“When he was given a task he came back with results, not excuses,” Logan said.
Purifoy retired as Homestead fire chief on Dec. 1. He led the department for 17 years. He remained an active firefighter and was the borough's emergency management coordinator following his retirement.
Purifoy had a total of 38 years of fire service to Homestead.
“I believe we have accomplished a great many things working together,” Purifoy said in a retirement letter to borough council.
DeSimone knew Purifoy since the mid 1990s when he joined the borough police force.
“I can remember a lot of times when the District Attorney's office would assign him to Homestead,” DeSimone said. “Bill was playing in his home backyard. He'd go to a fire scene and you'd see this hulking person in this huge deep voice. He was larger than life.
“Nobody knows anybody 100 percent,” DeSimone said. “We all have our ups and our downs, but Bill was always a good guy in my times around him.”
Esper said Purifoy helped recruit new firefighters.
“He did nothing but improve that fire department. It was always a good fire department, but he brought more young fellas in. He had up to about 40 firefighters. He's been missed already. I don't think there's a fire department in the Mon Valley that didn't respect him.”
Esper said the 6-foot-8-inch former professional football player was a gentle giant.
“I used to tell him, ‘Bill, you're the only person I ever looked up to,'” Esper said.
Purifoy was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1982 from the University of Tulsa. He played for two seasons as a defensive end with the Arizona Wranglers of the old United States Football League.
Before returning to his hometown in 1993, he was a community service officer in the Tulsa City police force and then in the Tulsa County sheriff's department in Oklahoma.
Purifoy was named Tulsa Deputy of the Year for 1991 for his part in a gang investigation.
“He was chasing some gang-bangers through a field when he was shot, at close range, by one of the suspects,” sheriff's office secretary Sheryl Stedham recalled in a 2004 Trib Total Media interview. “He was wearing a bulletproof vest, but he had a bruise that covered his chest and stomach.”
Esper said she knew Purifoy was sick and in and out of hospitals for the past few months, but did not know the seriousness of his condition.
“We had known that ambulances were in front of his house and he wasn't well,” she said.
Deputy Chief James Barca took over the fire department when Purifoy retired.
The department encouraged people to share their stories or pictures of Purifoy on its Facebook page.
Homeville No. 1 Volunteer Fire Co. in West Mifflin is using Homestead's Facebook profile picture — the department's shield with an emblem reading “R.I.P. Bill Purifoy Sr. 171 Past Chief.” Homestead's station number is 171.
A Facebook picture of Purifoy with his friends and colleagues had 75 “likes” and several comments within an hour.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete at presstime.
Patrick Cloonan and Michael DiVittorio are staff writers for Trib Total Media. They can be reached at 412-664-9161, Cloonan at ext. 1967 or email@example.com, DiVittorio at ext. 1965 or firstname.lastname@example.org.