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Monessen firefighter brings back vehicle identification markers

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 8:09 p.m.
Douglas Education Center student Anthony Canonica volunteered to make the Monessen fire stations a vehicle identification marker from the early 1960s. From left are Patricia DeConcilis, DEC Vice President of Academic Affairs; Monessen Hilltop firefighter John Poproski; Canonica; Monessen No. 1 firefighter Tony Evans; and DEC instructor Shawn Ronzio. SUBMITTED

It's a scene most motorists have experienced on a number of occasions — a car with a flashing blue light speeds by. A firefighter's license plate may be visible for a brief moment as the volunteer firefighter speeds off to the scene of a fire.

But generations before those blue lights were made, the only way the public knew their neighbor s were firefighters was by the vehicle identification marker, bolted to the grill, of their vehicles.

On the wall of his home, Monessen Hilltop firefighter John Poproski displayed for many years his father's vehicle identification marker, first given to Steve Poproski in the early 1960s. John Poproski is a third-generation firefighter.

His father, Steve Poproski, was an assistant chief in Monessen.

His grandfather, Paul Lambert, was the first fire chief of Stockdale.

John Poproski was chief of the West Newton Fire Department before moving back to Monessen in 2008.

John Poproski got the idea to preserve the Monessen Fire Department's vehicle identification marker's and sought the assistance of Douglas Education Center.

The vehicle identification marker that John Poproski owned was still painted, so he borrowed one owned by fellow firefighter Chuck Keller. The painted had chipped off that vehicle identification marker, making it easier to use to create a mold.

Anthony Canonica, 19, a graduate of Tom Savini's Special Make-Up Effects Program at DEC, jumped at the chance to get involved.

“I'm so glad I was able to be a part of this project,” Canonica said. “I was a volunteer firefighter in my hometown for two years. I think it's really important to give back to the community and support the local fire departments.”

Canonica is a native of Williamstown, N.J.

Canonica molded 20 VIMs in five days.

“We are really proud of Anthony,” said DEC instructor Shawn Ronzio. “He worked really hard on this project. There's much more that goes into the molding process than most people think.

“A lot of time was devoted to getting the details of the VIM's just right such as the contours of the fire helmet and lettering.”

Monessen firefighters Tony Evans and Poproski visited Douglas education Center to accept the finished molds.

“We couldn't be happier,” said Poproski. “Once they've been painted we plan to give them to any local firefighter on a first- come, first-serve basis. This is a great piece of history, and one that is near and dear to my heart.”

Vehicle identification markers first issued in 1930s and remade in early 1960s.

“I pursued this for nostalgia,” Poproski said. “That was the original Monessen firefighter ID. I thought it would be great to bring back that piece of nostalgia.”

After receiving the vehicle identification markers from DEC, Poproski finished them, including sanding, priming and painting them. has sold them to other firefighters to recoup his costs.

“Some guys have put them on their cars while others have put them in their man caves,” Poproski said.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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