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From mascot to father figure: Pokos honored for seven decades with Boswell fire department

February 2, 2019

John Pokos said it takes a lot of guts to be in the Boswell Volunteer Fire Department, because you never know what job you might have to do besides putting out a fire.

More than 60 years ago, a dog fell down a 92-foot air shaft in a Boswell mine.

“So the firemen were looking at each other saying, ‘Who’s going to go down?’” Pokos said. “And I says, ‘I’ll go.’”

After being lowered by rope into the shaft, Pokos cornered the dog only to see a rock “as big as a car” hanging 50 feet over his head. So Pokos raced with the dog toward the air shaft and had volunteers quickly pull him to the surface.

“I was telling my father about the incident, and he said when he worked in the mines that rock would just hang there,” he said.

Pokos, now 92, has been actively serving the fire department for over 74 years. He received a certificate of appreciation from the National Volunteer Fire Council headquartered in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The council is a nonprofit membership association representing the interests of volunteer fire and rescue services. Kimberly Quiros, the council’s chief of communications, said they wanted to honor Pokos after being made aware of his work with the department.

“We sent Mr. Pokos a certificate of appreciation in recognition of his amazing lifetime of service,” she wrote in an email to the Daily American.

Pokos officially joined the department in 1944 while he was still in high school. It was nearing the end of World War II, and Pokos said there were very few eligible men available to join the company.

Pokos worked as a mechanic in Johnstown and Boswell for more than 50 years, repairing jukeboxes and pinball machines.

“In my wallet I carry a card listing all the names of the operators that I’ve known who have passed away,” he said.

When he was 6, Pokos served as the fire department’s unofficial mascot, and it has continued to be a part of his life ever since.

“It was just natural,” he said. “I was the mascot, and you just move up from mascot to fireman.”

His wife, Stella, said that when they were first married, they lived half a block from the fire hall.

“As soon as the whistle would blow, he was the first one down at the fire hall ’cause we lived practically next door,” she said.

Pokos is not without his bruises either. During a barn fire near Jennerstown, Pokos broke bones in his leg after the barn collapsed on top of him.

“I always worried about him ’cause he was so daring,” Stella Pokos said. “He wasn’t afraid of fires, and that’s what scared me.”

John Pokos has held every position in the department except president. Current President Robert Turner said Pokos has been a father figure to him since he first met him in 1982. He said he has always had a level head on his shoulders when it comes to operating the department.

“Everybody would be jumping and saying, ‘We need to do this,’ and John would say, ‘Now wait a minute, let’s think about it for a second,’” he said.

Turner said many in the department look to Pokos for his experience and advice.

“If you want to know something that happened 30 or 40 years ago, John has a real good memory,” he said.

Pokos said it takes guts and nerve to be a good firefighter. While his health keeps him from some jobs, he still serves on the board of directors, and he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.

“You just got to put yourself out, and go and do your job,” he said.

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