Latrobe man, 82, honored for decades as firefighter, crossing guard
Latrobe Elementary students experienced some major changes this past school year. Midway through the academic calendar, they started attending classes in a new school on Ligonier Street, several blocks away from the building it replaced.
Though the surroundings shifted, familiar faces at the school remained — including crossing guard John Dickson, who has been on the job for about two decades.
“Everybody says, ‘Why don’t you retire?’ ” said Dickson, 82, of Latrobe. But he’s not ready to give up interacting with the children he protects from traffic as they walk to school — or their parents.
“It’s nice,” he said. “Year in and year out, you get to see these newer kids going to kindergarten and you see their mothers, and you follow them right through.
“You get attached to the kids, and they get to know you.”
Dickson is the senior member and a captain among a contingent of Latrobe fire police who serve as crossing guards at the school. That guard duty is just the latest phase of his four decades of service with the local fire police and 56 years in the ranks of Latrobe Volunteer Fire Company No. 6.
That continuing record of public service was recognized this month by city council, which presented Dickson with a proclamation honoring his years of dedication.
“I was really floored,” he said. “I never expected anything like that.”
“There’s not many left like him,” Latrobe fire Chief John Brasile said of Dickson. “He’s very committed and very loyal. He lives and breathes the fire department. He’s not going to quit.”
Through the years, Dickson has served as president, captain and lieutenant with the No. 6 fire company and also completed a term as overall president of the Latrobe department. He has been a member of the County Firemen Association and Fire Chiefs Association and is a local delegate to the Western Pennsylvania Firemen Association.
Dickson served with the neighboring Youngstown Volunteer Fire Department before joining Latrobe Company No. 6, in 1963. “One of the first things I did was go up by Philadelphia and drive a new squad truck back home,” he recalled.
He helped deliver many other Latrobe fire trucks from the factory and drove many of them to scenes of emergencies before jumping down to help battle flames, assist occupants of wrecked vehicles or recover a drowning victim.
Dickson experienced one close call while helping to fight a 1972 blaze that destroyed the St. Xavier Academy in Unity. He had entered a room intent on disconnecting the power supply when “the whole ceiling started falling,” he said. “I just shoved the stuff around and got out. I was all right.”
But fellow firefighters were temporarily panicked, believing he’d been trapped. Afterward, “They made me go over and get the medics to check me out,” he said.
Dickson has started a family tradition of firefighting that has been carried on by a son and two grandsons.
In more recent years, he’s focused his attention on his work as a crossing guard. It can mean spending some time outside in bad weather, but there are offsetting rewards.
He was particularly touched by students with special needs at the Latrobe school who let him know how much they missed him when he was off work for a month, including a few weeks spent in the hospital recovering from pneumonia.
“You wouldn’t believe the cards the kids made,” he said.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .