Legendary, long-serving Greensburg fire chief Ed Hutchinson dies
For a fire chief who took office when Harry Truman was president and retired 63 years later when Donald Trump was president-elect, Ed Hutchinson was a community leader whose impact stretched far beyond the fire halls of Greensburg.
“He was not only a fire chief, but a great community servant. I am stunned today,” Greensburg Mayor Robert Bell said of the death of Hutchinson on Sunday morning at age 96 at Excela Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg.
“Anything that was Greensburg, he had his hands in it,” and he had an impact on the county and state level as well, Bell said.
Bell recalled that as a youngster, he would see Hutchinson come to his house and talk with his father, Robert, who was mayor at the time, about how they could work together to improve the city.
The accolades poured in for Hutchinson from those who were with him as they fought fires, searched for missing people, drowning victims and fugitives, rescued trapped miners, or who worked with him on various initiatives that would benefit those in boundaries that exceeded Westmoreland County.
Hutchinson was elected fire chief in 1952 and took over the reins of the department in January 1953, not retiring until the end of 2016. Having joined Hose Company No. 3 in November 1939, he was active in the fire department for more than 78 years. It was believed he was the longest-serving and oldest active fire chief in the state and among the longest tenured chiefs in the nation.
Duty to the fire department runs in the family. His father, grandfather and uncle served, and his sons, Keith and Kevin, have been assistant fire chiefs.
He was instrumental in the building of the popular Aerobic Center at Lynch Field, bringing the emergency medical helicopter Stat MedEvac to Greensburg, a weight room at Greensburg Salem High School and building pavilions at Lynch Field and Mt. Odin Park, to name just a few of his undertakings.
Les Harvey, an assistant fire chief under Hutchinson, echoed the mayor's sentiments.
“He was all for the community and the people. He was always willing to help people in need. He gave it 24/7,” said Harvey, now retired as the city's longtime code enforcement director.
He was on Excela Westmoreland Hospital's board of directors and the garage behind the hospital bears his name.
“Excela Health and Westmoreland Hospital were lucky to have his support. He's one of those rare people you meet in life. His personality fills the room and everyone has a story about him. It's the end of an era for sure,” said Robert Rogalski, Excela chief executive.
To Greensburg Assistant Fire Chief Kim Houser, “he inspired the other firefighters in the community to be community oriented.”
“He pulled out all the stops. He always worked outside the box,” said George McFarland, captain of the Greensburg Fire Department dive team, which Hutchinson started in 1957. He stressed training and up-to-date equipment for the dive team, McFarland said.
Into his early 90s, he scoffed at the talk of retiring, typically going to the scene of fires or giving instructions. The gruff-talking Hutch, often with a wad of tobacco in his cheek, was a familiar sight in town, driving the red city-owned sport utility vehicle, jam-packed with everything short of hoses to fight a fire. He was “on duty” even when there was no fire to fight.
Tom Bell, the man who took over as chief when Hutchinson retired, considered Hutchinson a mentor.
“I'm fire chief today because of that man,” said Bell, who has been a firefighter for 33 years. “This is a very difficult day.”
To Roland “Buddy” Mertz, director of the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety, Hutch was “a formidable role model for me.”
He credited Hutchinson with working with the late Mayor Bob Bell to create the Westmoreland 911 system in the 1970s.
“It made Westmoreland County one of the pioneers in emergency 911 centers,” outside of any urban center, Mertz said.
“Of all my public safety experiences, some of the strangest and most daring incidents were with him,” said Mertz, a longtime Greensburg firefighter.
Under Hutchinson, the fire department traveled to help those in need throughout the eastern United States.
Greensburg's fire department was involved in Hurricane Hugo relief efforts at Sullivan Island off Charleston, S.C., in October 1989.
When 72 West Virginia coal miners were killed in November 1968 in a series of explosions and fires in the mine disaster in Farmington, W.Va., the fire department responded with a fund drive for the families of the victims.
Hutchinson led a contingent of Greensburg firefighters to New York City on the night of Sept. 11, 2001, to assist in search efforts at the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center. The firefighters got to the outskirts of the city, but were turned away at the Holland Tunnel, that had been closed. They were told there was little they could do in terms of finding anyone alive, Houser said.
Fire Chief Tom Bell remembered that Hutchinson sprang into action when he saw a news item in the mid-1980s about a poor school in Selma, Ala. He got a group of firefighters, filled a truck full of school equipment with the help of Greensburg Salem administrators, and traveled to Alabama to aid that school.
Working with fellow firefighters, they built the Aerobic Center in the 1970s at Lynch Field, ostensibly to keep the firefighters in shape, said Marianne Anzovino, managing director at the fitness center.
“He was my mentor, my friend and a man of steel,” Anzovino said.
While joking that they had their clashes at time, “he really was a helluva man,” Anzovino said.
“Greensburg lost a great one,” Anzovino said.
His wife, Dolores Kralik Hutchinson, whom he married in 1947, died Feb. 9. In addition to their two sons, they had a daughter, Karen.
Funeral arrangements are private, according to the Leo M. Bacha Funeral Home in Greensburg.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.