First Posted: 4/25/2013
When John Janczewski was just five months out of Wyoming Area High School in the fall of 1971, his friend Jim Hawk talked him into joining the West Pittston Fire Department.
Today he is 59 years old and a 42-year veteran volunteer fireman.
“I wasn’t one of those kids who wanted to be a fireman growing up, but things happen and I’ve been there ever since,” Janczewski said.
The residents of West Pittston are glad of that and for Janczewski’s dedication to the department, the Cherry Blossom Committee has selected him as the Outstanding Citizen of the Year.
After high school, Janczewski remained in West Pittston and, in 1974, married Nancy Sippach. They have two daughters, Sheri Slusser and Vickie Hood, and three grandchildren, Kaitlyn and Morgan Slusser and J.J. Hood. They all live in West Pittston.
Janczewski has worked for PPL since 1984. In 1990, he was named assistant fire chief under Chief Joe Jumper, who retired as chief in 1993. “When he stepped down, I stepped up,” Janczewski said.
Now it’s Janczewski’s turn to step down. He retired as chief, but stayed on as a firefighter. “I won’t be as active, but I’ll be there when I have to be.”
Two fires stand out in Janczewski’s memory. He was two months into being chief when West Pittston responded to the infamous Pittston structure fire where John F. Lombardo, 25, and Leonard C. Insalaco, 20, were killed. Insalaco was one of Janczewski’s men.
For sheer size and power, the fire that destroyed the Diversified Records warehouse in May 1997 was the monster of them all.
Janczewski said technology, aging of volunteers and training are the biggest changes in firefighting over the decades.
“When I started, you grabbed a helmet and a pair of boots, jumped on the truck and you were a fireman. Now the department requires a minimum of 120 hours training before you can fight a fire.”
As to the aging of the volunteers he said, “When I joined at 18, there were 15 or 20 around that age. Now we have four junior firemen under 18 but from 18 to about 30, there’s a big gap.” He said if attrition continues at the pace he’s seeing now, the shortage of volunteers could become critical.
Janczewski said when he was told he was selected Outstanding Citizen, he was surprised and flattered, but insisted firefighting is all about teamwork.
“I don’t feel I’ve done anything on an individual basis any other chief wouldn’t have done,” he said. “The fire department is not just me, it’s a whole bunch of people.”