John Harpur, Deputy Chief
Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire
Retired Passing Member: 12/15/2017
Years In Service: 35
HARPUR JOHN Chief John Harpur, who was known as Jack or “Chief” to his family but John to everyone else, passed away on December 15, 2017, morning, with his family by his side. A Christmas baby, Chief Harpur would have been 91 this Christmas day. Born and raised in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, John attended St. Lawrence O’Toole Elementary School and Central Catholic High School. He served in the Philippines at the tail end of WWII. He worked 2-3 jobs most of his life but the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau and the Firefighters Local #1 Union were his passion. He rose through the ranks from 1957 to second in command as Assistant Fire Chief. Along the way, he was the head instructor at the Fire Academy; edited and prepared the Fire Prevention Code in 1981; authored many ordinances; and illustrated and wrote the department’s Fire Instruction Manual. He was a delegate to the international conventions of the IAFF Union for ten years. He gave of his time tutoring other firefighters for their promotion exams. Upon retirement in 1991, he was an investigator and expert witness for fire related court cases. But he was most proud of having advocated, initiated, and having written the original resolution and course work for the nation’s very first Open Learning Fire Service Program (OLFSP), funded by the National Fire Academy, which made it possible for firefighters in the USA and Canada to earn a bachelor’s degree in fire science and protection. Chief Harpur became its first graduate and went on to earn his own bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Fire Service Administration from State University New York. He then earned an associate’s degree in Fire Science Engineering and certifications in Fire Service Management from Penn State University and later taught fire prevention science at Allegheny Community College. For his initiatives in the area of education, Chief Harpur and Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Safety were awarded the Outstanding Public Service Award from the National Fire Academy. On a personal level, Jack Harpur truly was a Jack of all trades. He could and did fix everything around the house, from the furnace, to the TV, the car, home remodeling, and maybe too much input on his children’s school and Scout projects. He was a musician, playing trombone in high school and also played piano, harmonica, and guitar and led the family reunion sing-alongs. After returning from the service, he and his buddies formed The Garfielders Barbershop Quartet and competed for a short while. He later sang for the Pittsburgh Barbershop Chorus of the National Barbershop Harmony Society for over 20 years. He was also a schooled and talented artist in oil painting but was known mostly for his pencil and charcoal portraits of family and retiring firefighters. He also illustrated the union newspaper, including political cartoons. He was known for his quick wit and his original, groan inducing bad puns. A respected humorist and writer, the Firefighters Union called upon Chief Harpur to emcee many of its retirement dinners and other formal functions.