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Purifoy's death is Steel Valley community's loss

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 4:56 a.m.
Patrick Cloonan | Daily News
The caption on the card inside the wreath on the door of the Homestead municipal building reads, 'In memory of our beloved Fire Chief, William Purifoy.' Purifoy, 53, retired as fire chief on Dec. 1, but continued working as an Allegheny County detective until two weeks before his death on Monday at UPMC Mercy.

Volunteer firefighters in the Steel Valley say the passing of former Homestead fire Chief William Purifoy Sr. on Monday from natural causes is a loss to the public safety community and to the community at large.

“Beyond the fire department, and even in surrounding communities, he was a figure that stood out,” Homestead fire Chief Jim Barca said.

“We'd come into the department as young kids,” recalled Barca, who was 17 when he started with the fire department 10 years ago. “(Purifoy) was a mentor and a father figure to a lot of guys in the department. Everyone looked up to him. He made us what we are.”

Barca said Purifoy, 53, treated young firefighters like they were his children. He made sure they were well trained as first responders and took an interest in their development outside the department, asking some to show him their school report cards.

“He gave us a lot of responsibility which led into becoming more responsible adults,” Barca said.

He recalled Purifoy would tell young firefighters, “I'll give you 30 seconds, kids,” as they entered burning buildings.

It was as much about being fast as it was about being safe, Barca said. If the trainee didn't have the fire knocked down within half a minute, it was time to get out for safety's sake.

West Homestead Volunteer Fire Department Chief John G. Dindak described the 6-foot-8-inch Purifoy as “a shining light in the valley.”

“He was as big in life as he was in stature,” Dindak said. “He was big in life, big in heart and big in spirit. The size fit him and he fit the size.”

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 for Tulsa City police and then for the Tulsa County sheriff's department.

Purifoy was a detective with District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office.

Dindak said Purifoy was a strong mentor to up-and-coming firefighters.

“He was willing to teach anybody anything. He wanted the next group to be better,” Dindak said. “Most leaders are like that.”

Homestead is paying official tribute to Purifoy by displaying his turnout gear outside the borough building through the week. Arrangements for an official firefighters tribute ceremony remained unsettled on Tuesday.

Purifoy's friends and family are being received on Friday from 2-9 p.m. at Tunie Funeral Home in Homestead. Funeral services will be at Clark Memorial Baptist Church in Homestead on Saturday at 11 a.m. Burial in Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh will follow.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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