Bryan Smith to lead Punxsy Fire Department for next two years

PUNXSUTAWNEY — There’s a new fire chief in town, as Bryan Smith was sworn in as the new Punxsutawney Fire Department chief during Tuesday’s borough council reorganization meeting.

Smith, who had been chief of the Elk Run Volunteer Fire Company for the last seven years, was nominated by the Elk Run firefighters to become the chief of the entire department, a post that is chosen on a rotation basis among the three fire companies, Central, Elk Run and Lindsey.

Smith, who joined the fire department in 1991, is the son of firefighter Pete Smith, Central assistant chief.

“The reason why I joined Elk Run instead of Central where my dad is a member was because we lived up in Harmony, and I was friends with ‘Critter’ (Chris) Porada, who belonged to Elk Run at the time, so I decided to join there,” Smith said. “When Dad joined in 1973 he lived up on Oakland Avenue, which was closer to Central’s fire hall.”

Smith joined the Navy in 1994 but couldn’t wait to return home to continue with his service to the fire company.

As the chief of Elk Run, Smith achieved one of his goals, which was to replace the company’s 1981 Mack Engine 30-1.

Through the assistance of Punxsutawney Borough Council, the new engine was purchased last year from the Ferrara Fire Apparatus Company in Louisiana for approximately $322,000.

The new truck was placed into service in late November.

The fire department was able to pay off the loan before the first payment was due, thanks to a generous donation from an estate.

Smith said despite some bugs that needed to be worked out, the new truck has been a great addition to not only Elk Run, but the department as a whole, with the addition of a Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS), which Elk Run paid for separately and was utilized heavily during the Punxsy Hotel fire.

His first fire when he joined was in 1991 at the Astorino’s Restaurant fire on Walston Road.

Despite the fact that he has been chief for barely 48 hours, Smith has supervised the scenes at two large fires within the past year: A house fire Nov. 2, 2010, along Graffius Avenue and the Nov. 8, 2010, New Anchor Inn fire.

Smith said running a large fire scene is quite challenging, as one must make sure all the equipment is set up in the right areas and decide when assistance is needed from neighboring fire companies.

“The Anchor Inn fire was quite a bit different than the recent (Dec. 10, 2011) Punxsy Hotel fire, because the department was able to perform an interior attack to knock the flames down throughout the night,” he said. “At the hotel, fire spread rather quickly despite an interior attack that Chief (Paul) Hense had originally planned to do.”

Smith said during his two-year term as chief, there are some ideas he would like to implement department-wide.

“I’m not quite ready to reveal my suggestions, ideas and goals just yet,” he said. “I will bring some of these ideas to the department in the months ahead.”

Smith said the department will continue to work on its accountability program, which has been difficult to implement at this time.

Accountability is where firefighters have tags with their names and numbers on it, and are given to an accountability officer when they first arrive on scene in order to keep track of each person’s whereabouts during an emergency.

“It has to be implemented from the beginning of the emergency, not started 15 minutes into it,” Smith said. “By then, it’s too late.

“I’m looking forward to working with borough council and all three Punxsy fire companies and the surrounding departments during my term,” he said. “It should be an interesting two years.”

Smith and his wife, Tracy, are the parents of two children, Morgan and Garrett.