Allison Hook & Ladder #2 | 315 S. 14th St. | Harrisburg, PA 17104

Allison President Barry Buskey “The Commissioner” Passes Away

Pennsylvania Fire Service Icon Barry J. Buskey died October 23, 2022 at home. He had been under care for a cardiac condition since mid summer. Barry was a life member and President of the Allison having joined in 1958.  President Buskey was dubbed with the moniker, “The Commissioner” owing to the high respect afforded to him by the fire service. David Houseal, historian for the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire and the Allison wrote the following tribute to his friend Barry that we are honored to publish in Barry’s memory.

President Barry J. Buskey Allison Hook & Ladder Co. Passes Away 

It is with deep regret and sorrow that the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire and the Allison Hook & Ladder Company announces the death of a real legend; Retired Driver/Operator/Firefighter Barry J. Buskey. Barry passed in his sleep, October 22, 2022

Born to a Harrisburg firefighting family, his father, the late Joseph F. Buskey was appointed on Dec 1, 1942. Barry’s fire department roots go back to the glory days of the early 1900’s through 1930s with many family members active with the old Susquehanna Engine No. 9 on S. Cameron Street. Grandparents Emmanuel Bowman and Fred Longfelt, who lived in the old 1st Ward below Sycamore Street and for decades drove the big white horses and then the motorized steamer and hose wagon.

Barry was raised in Manada Street off S. 19th and when he became of age in 1958, joined the Allison Hook & Ladder No.12 on S. 14th St. Following a stint of active duty in the U.S. Army, “B.J.” hired out to the city working for the Electrical Bureau as an electrician, spending time on the ‘trouble truck’ and maintaining the city’s extensive Gamewell fire alarm system. Following successfully passing the Civil Service exam he and the late Donny Conway were hired by Fire Chief Robert Houseal, Sr. on September 10, 1966. He was given Badge No. 4.

Chief Houseal, my Grandfather, was an avid truckman and always assigned his new hires to his three ladder companies. BJ and Conway were both sent up to the Reily firehouse (today’s fire museum) as riders on Ladder 3. Barry began work two days after his swearing in, and he would often joke about while learning how to drive the 1961 American LaFrance tiller truck, he promptly blew up the gas Continental motor while wheeling down Front Street. (The cause was coolant water leaking into the motor oil and the chief never blamed Barry)

Barry enjoyed his time on B shift at the Reily but as fire activity increased dramatically, he transferred to Squad 1 in November, 1968 when several openings occurred. A year later, he was re-assigned by Fire Chief Elmer Shover to the Allison working on Ladder 2.

This was at a time in Harrisburg’s history when our “War Years” were now full of run and fire activity. With vastly improved fireground tactics evolving, Assistant Chief Charles ‘Chet’ Henry was pacing the whole department through an extensive training program. Chief Henry quickly saw in Barry and John Brindle, Sr. leadership capabilities and a strong desire to learn as well as assist in training, both firemen became deeply involved as fire instructors in and outside the Bureau of Fire. When time allowed, Barry continued working his shifts on Ladder 2 from the Allison.

In 1971, Harrisburg purchased Tower 1, the first of many Mack Aerialscopes. Through the previous years, Barry became close friends with the late Mack Salesman Karl Marzolf. Like a sponge he quickly learned everything he could on the operation and maintenance of these tremendously rugged aerial trucks. Following Tower 1’s arrival, BJ was assigned by Chief Shover as principal training instructor on the new Tower 1. When the rig went in service as Harrisburg’s 4th truck company on January 1, 1972 running from the Paxton No. 6 on S. 2nd St. BJ bid to the Driver No. 1 position on B Platoon with Fireman Curtie Quigley as the second man on the truck.

Following Chet’s retirement in 1976, Barry opted for a change and bid over to C Platoon driving Engine 14 from his favorite firehouse; the Allison. Two years later following the tragic death of tillerman Bill Corish, Barry bid down to the Hope No. 2 at 2nd & Liberty in the tiller seat behind Driver George Davis on the 1967 American LaFrance 100’ aerial truck staying on C Platoon.

In this period of his career, Barry’s dynamic personality and strong leadership ability surfaced to the forefront of the Bureau of Fire when he was elected as President of I.A.F.F. Local 428 at the end of 1978. Leading his negotiating team, through an Act 111 arbitration hearing Local 428 was awarded a reduction in working hours from 48 to 42 hours per week and adding a 4th platoon (D) to handle those reduced hours on a new schedule.

During Barry’s tumultuous four years as President, the city was extremely close to filing for bankruptcy when a young Stephen R. Reed took office of Mayor for his first term. Led by Barry’s strong leadership, the Bureau of Fire membership worked hard during 1982 canvasing every neighborhood in the city gathering well over 50,000 signatures on petitions against any layoffs of firefighters. On the evening of December 9th, Barry led hundreds of off-duty firefighters supported by local volunteer firemen, family and friends, marched from the Paxton firehouse up 2nd Street to City Hall where they presented their case to city council. Due to his tenacity, no member of the Fire Bureau ever got a ‘layoff notification.’

During BJ’s tenure as President, he worked at Engine 8, Engine 11 and Ladder 1 (now located at the Paxton due to closures of the consolidation of the old firehouses into new Stations 1 and 2). With the closure of the Paxton in January, 1983, Barry bid driving Tower 1 again on the C Platoon now running from Station 2.

For the next two years Barry’s leadership, persuasive ability and persistence working with the Reed administration resulted in re-opening the downtown Paxton firehouse on February 24, 1986.

Following his four-year tenure as Local 428’s President, Barry was elected to the Presidency of the Pennsylvania Professional Firefighters Association (PPFFA), representing nearly all of the career IAFF locals, throughout the Commonwealth. Spending more time now on Harrisburg’s Capitol Hill than in the firehouse, BJ was very instrumental as a lobbyist working with legislatures of both parties crafting important legislation such as sorely needed pay increases to older firemen and widows on meager pensions to cancer presumption.

When the Paxton reopened in 1986, Barry bid the driving job on a newly arrived 1985 Sutphen 95’ aerial tower on the C Platoon. He wheeled the big tower-ladder until he retired from the Fire Bureau on December 17, 2000.

While PPFFA President, Barry made his only attempt at a higher union office in 1996 but was narrowly defeated during an unsuccessful run for the International Association of Fire Fighters 4th District Vice Presidency. Following his retirement from the HFD in 2000, he remained as PPFFA’s President until his retirement from his statewide position in 2004, following an unprecedented 20 years wielding the gavel.

Barry however, would always remain deeply involved in some capacity with the fire service. Being one of the last remaining living members of the old and proud Allison Hook & Ladder No. 2, he along with Jason Lloyd and others quietly worked to re-invigorate the company and continued to tap the Allison gavel as the company’s President rebuilding the company into what it is today as no doubt the most active and prominent of the last three remaining Harrisburg volunteer companies.

Wherever Barry went he was always a welcome and friendly addition to any gathering of firemen, old and young. “The Commissioner” will be greatly missed by many. The “Loafer’s and Liar’s” Club meetings held Fridays at the Fire Museum will never be the same with the Commissioner no longer with us.

On a personal note, I met Barry in the early 1970s. When Progress’ brand new Mack Aerialscope arrived in late 1974, Barry was our instructor. He quickly became one of my true mentors. The following year I was appointed to the Fire Bureau and worked with BJ on the C Platoon. His mentoring continued in other ways not just in the firehouse but also as a wonderfully respectful human being. In 1989, I won the election to be President of Local 428, and with little experience in labor affairs, BJ quickly took me under his wing and continued his mentoring.

During the past months, with his health declining, it would only be a matter of time until the final phone call or email arrived. Now with great sadness, a heavy heart and yes, more than a few tears, I note the passing of the last great mentor of my life’s many lessons.

My sincere and deepest condolences to Roberta, Mike and the Buskey family.

Rest in Peace, Big Brother. We’ll see you again someday.