Latrobe Fire Chief John Brasile is retiring at the end of the year from his job as a maintenance worker for Westmoreland County at Twin Lakes Park in Hempfield Township, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be resting on his laurels.
Brasile, who will turn 61 on New Year’s Eve, said that he has agreed to take over as chairman of the Latrobe 4th of July Celebration Inc., the organization that hosts the city’s annual Independence Day festivities.
“It’s something I tossed around. I only wanted to help, but nobody was coming forward (to take over the chairman position). My wife said, ‘I think you should take it. You’re retiring at the end of the year, you need something to do,’” Brasile said.
He added that his wife, Linda, who has worked for 35 years as the executive director of administration and finance for the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, also will be helping out with the 4th of July Celebration, handling bookkeeping for the event.
“She doesn’t like the limelight, but she loves her job. She’s been doing it a long time,” he said.
Brasile said Latrobe Police Community Service Officer Beth Straka — who handles much of the planning for some of the city’s other big events, including the annual National Night Out observance and the Christmas bonfire — will be serving as his “right-hand lady.”
As for the many committees and volunteers who assisted previous Latrobe 4th of July Celebration chair Carol Greenawalt with planning for the event, Brasile said he plans to reach out to all of them in the hopes that they will be willing to stay on board.
When it comes to the festivities, Brasile has plans to make some adjustments that he said he thinks will make the already popular event even better — and safer — for all involved.
For starters, the route for the 4th of July parade is set to be changed so that it goes straight down Ligonier Street instead of winding through town, in order to accommodate the larger floats that can’t make the tight turns necessary to navigate some of the city’s other streets.
Brasile said that after reaching out to the appropriate parties, he’s learned that the parking lots at Carpenter Technology Corp.’s Latrobe Specialty Metals, the newly constructed Latrobe Elementary School (LES) and Memorial Stadium can serve as gathering points for parade floats and participants, and on the other end of town, the parking lots at City Brewing Co. and Huber Hall could be used as staging areas, as well. The intersections of Ligonier Street with Main and Depot streets and the intersection of Depot and Alexandria streets likely would be closed to make way for the parade.
“This way, we’re not taking the parade back into itself. That’s what happened before,” he said. “Everybody got jammed up.”
Regarding the 5-Mile Run & 2-Mile Walk held during the 4th of July festivities, Brasile said he’d like to shift the route for that event out of the area around Excela Health Latrobe Hospital and over to the city’s Fifth Ward area, which he feels will be much safer and less disruptive.
“No disrespect to Carol. She did a great job for 30 years,” Brasile said, noting that as fire chief, he has a lot of perspective on safety concerns.
“If you’re taking it up past the hospital, you’re shutting down everything,” he said.
Other potential changes likely will include moving the Latrobe Miss 4th of July Pageant to the cafetorium at the new LES; eliminating the Big Wheels & Scooter Race, primarily because of a lack of interest and liability concerns; adding more craft and food vendors throughout town; moving the midway activities from the Legion-Keener Park area to the Goodwill Hose Co. No. 1 fire station at Alexandria and Oak streets, and, he hopes, encouraging more participation by local churches and other community organizations.
“We’re trying to keep everything local,” Brasile said. “We want to get local church groups and everyone involved in town, because that’s kind of gone away. We’d like to see them get involved again.”
Brasile said he’s also got his sights set on a much bigger fireworks display, with the goal set at a $30,000 investment.
“I’ve had some people come forward who want to sponsor the whole thing,” he said, noting that he can’t share any additional details about that.
He noted that while not everyone will be accepting of the changes at first, he hopes that in time everyone will come to find that the celebration grows to be even better with each passing year.
“We’re going to do things a little bit differently, but hopefully it works better for everybody,” he said.
Latrobe Mayor Rosie Wolford thanked him for stepping up to take on the challenge and agreed that change can often lead to good things.
“Change is always hard for people, but it’s not always a bad thing. New people bring in new ideas, and that’s a good thing,” she said.
Brasile said he’s planning on setting up a meeting sometime in October to discuss the planning further, and that anyone who is interested in getting involved or volunteering is welcome to call or text him anytime at 724-787-0810.
Oh, and if you were wondering if his impending retirement from the county job is a sign that his days as fire chief may be coming to an end, too, think again.
“I’m staying fire chief, that’s not going to change unless they throw me out,” he said, noting that he has served as chief since Jan. 3, 2000. “But I don’t see anybody that wants to do that, either, because that’s a lot of work.
“I told them, ‘Look, I’ll kick the shoes off if you want to walk in them.’”