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Hutch honored for service

| Saturday, May 12, 2012, 7:49 p.m.

When John Edward Hutchinson joined Greensburg's fire department 63 years ago, he was following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and uncle. When he leaves the position of chief someday, it's hard to imagine anyone following in his footsteps.

Mayor Karl E. Eisaman surprised Hutchinson Monday night by presenting him with a mini-grandfather's clock as the city recognized his 50 years of service as chief of the Greensburg Fire Department. In addition to his leadership of the fire department, Eisaman credited him "for being a leader and organizer for numerous community projects locally and countywide."

For a moment, Hutchinson was at a loss for words. He said he would not have attended the ceremony had he known in advance that he was being honored.

"I got suckered into this," said Hutchinson, who attended the meeting to present the fire department's heroism award to Douglas McAfee, a Latrobe firefighter credited with quick action Dec. 30 in saving the life of fire victim Harold Mulheren of Latrobe.

Hutchinson, 81, joined Hose Co. No. 3 in November 1939. His years of service in the fire department were interrupted only by his service to his country. Shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and plunged the United States into war, Hutchinson joined the Marine Corps.

Hutchinson was one of four candidates seeking to succeed Joseph Rush as chief of the department in December 1952. When he took command of the department in January 1953, he said he never gave it a thought as to how long he might be its leader.

He has been elected fire chief for 17 consecutive terms, a record that would be the envy of any politician. He remains as active as ever and has no plans to retire when his three-year term ends in December 2004.

"Unless they throw my rear out, I'll be here," said Hutchinson, who received the first Pennsylvania Fireman of the Year Award in 1964.

"You can do a lot of good things. It's a privilege to serve," he said.

During his tenure as chief, Hutchinson said there have been so many highlights that it would hard to list all of them. The fire department formed a bloodhound team and a scuba diving team, had the first vacuum truck, one of the first Hurst tools and one of the first lighting systems for fires.

"You have to think ahead," Hutchinson said.

The deadliest fire while he was chief occurred in October 1961 when storeowner Alex Cohen and four of his employees were killed in a fire at the La Rose Shop on South Main Street.

Two men were killed in January 1972 when fire struck the Penn Albert Hotel on Harrison Avenue. Hutchinson said they took an elevator to alert residents on the upper floors of the fire, but became trapped when the elevator opened to flames on the second floor.

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