As a municipal employee, I’ve had plenty of chances to see Mt. Lebanon’s police and fire departments in action, so my opinion may be suspect—some police officers and firefighters are my friends. Still, I’ve also dealt with them as an ordinary resident, so I will tender this: our public safety personnel are highly skilled, caring professionals.
My first encounter with Mt. Lebanon police was at age 16. A cop pulled me over in my dad’s Chevy Bel Air filled with a bevy of girls and asked for my driver’s license. He looked at it and let me go, never saying why he stopped me. (I was so small, he probably thought he had caught a preteen!)
As an adult, the police have been to my house many times. On a hot tip from a neighbor, they “busted” a sixth-grade Coke and pizza party. They responded at 3 a.m. to what we thought was our burglar alarm but turned out to be a rogue alarm clock. One wild reunion weekend, they arrived not once, but twice, to rescue guests who had locked keys in their rental cars. All minor incidents; all handled politely and with good humor.
At work, I have been involved peripherally with more serious police incidents, including drug busts, murders, robberies, bomb threats and pedestrian/vehicle crashes. The worst, however, was the April 28, 2000, killing spree by Richard Baumhammers, who murdered his next-door neighbor and five other people over three counties. A picture our photographer Gene Puskar took at the end of that day epitomizes for me what our police are all about. It depicts former chief Tom Ogden walking away from the barricaded Elm Spring Road crime scene looking totally defeated. The police had done an incredible job; still they had not been able to protect everyone—and that is their goal.
Protecting us is a goal the fire department shares. Thankfully I have only had firefighters at my home once, for what turned out to be a false alarm. But I have seen nearly every aspect of their training and service and have worked many times in the emergency management center, which the fire department commands in times like the snow emergency of February, 2010, or the microburst in September of that year. During a training exercise, I crawled on my hands and knees through thick, black (fake) smoke, and a firefighter then carried me down a ladder from a second-floor window. I have ridden in the cab of the ladder truck and viewed Mt. Lebanon from its raised bucket. I have observed a live burn at a house that was soon to be torn down. I have interviewed fire victims, who have lost precious pets and possessions and still can’t stop praising the firefighters. In May, I joined in the applause at the annual recognition banquet for a fire department that has achieved prestigious international accreditation.
At this past Memorial Day Parade, as always, I was pleased to see children waving to the police officers and firefighters—who smiled and waved back. These men and women are the real deal. That’s why I’m happy to present in this issue our first-ever Guide to Public Safety Services (page 29), an overview of police and fire services that help us protect ourselves (sometimes from ourselves) and provide a safety net when we’re in danger. I hope you’ll pull it from the center of the magazine, save it and refer to it often. Have a great summer.