A township supervisor, a software consultant and a master firefighter, Cranberry Township’s Bruce Hezlep is, at heart, a family man.
“My priorities are my God, my family, everything else, right?” he said. “It does take some balancing, but it also takes a very supportive family.”
As vice chairman for the Cranberry Township Board of Supervisors and former president of the Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company, Hezlep said his wife, Karen, has been his most stalwart supporter.
“I can tell you there have been Christmas days I have gone to calls. Any volunteer will tell you this, Thanksgiving meals get interrupted, Easter Sundays,” he said. “But I’m very, very fortunate that I married my best friend, and she understands my passion for the fire service and she supports it a great deal as well.”
Hezlep said Karen, vice president of the PNC Financial Services Group and president of the fire department’s auxiliary group, was diagnosed with cancer in 2020 while he was captain of the department.
“I remember saying to her that I’m going to take some time off and spend it with her,” he said. “And she said to me, ‘Listen, you love doing that, don’t quit doing what you love.”
While Hezlep said that his wife has made a full recovery, he admitted that not every moment of his time with the department has been easy.
He said there have been days where he thought, “Maybe I should call it a day.”
“But it’s the camaraderie of being around people that are highly motivated to help people on their worst day,” he said. “To make a difference in someone’s life on their absolute worst day, I think anybody that gets into public service like this gets a great deal of satisfaction from doing that.”
And for Hezlep that camaraderie has translated into the department becoming an “extension of family” in his life, with many young firefighters looking to him as a fatherly figure.
“I’ve seen old guys that don’t run calls anymore that just hold the organization back and disparage the young guys with their new ideas,” he said. “Or, you can help those guys out, and when they come to you with a new idea, you can listen: ‘Hey, that’s a great idea,’ or, ‘You know we’ve tried this before.
“Always be that encouraging mentor, someone who they’re not afraid to come to.”
In August, Hezlep was honored by the Pennsylvania Fireman’s Association for his work mentoring new members of the fire service.
“That’s probably the greatest satisfaction I get now: Someone comes in, they don’t know anything about the fire service and I help them on their career,” he said. “And most of them have far surpassed anything I will ever do.”
In spite of that, Hezlep has lead a storied career with the department, beginning in the mid-1990s
“I always had an interest in giving back to the community that I live in, and when we moved to Cranberry around 1994, I initially thought about joining the fire company,” he said, “but my work schedule at that point just didn’t permit it.”
It wasn’t until 2002 though, at the township’s Community Days event, that Hezlep made the leap.
“The fire company had a booth there and I went over and I talked to some folks,” he said. “And I joined shortly thereafter because I figured it’s now or never.”
By 2005, Hezlep had become a member of the board of directors at the fire company.
“And then in 2009, I became the president after a long, long-serving president decided to step down,” he said. “And he had mentored me.”
Hezlep’s mentor, Chris DeCree, died in January 2021.
“Aside from my father, he was probably one of the most influential men in my life,” he said. “He helped me out and helped me in the early part of my fire service career.”
From there, Hezlep became a lieutenant and a captain before taking over training for the company.
“We have a really good group of guys and girls that I really enjoy being around,” he said. “I’m 56 years old. I know that my time as an active, interior firefighter are coming to a close, but there’s still other jobs to do.”
And in recognition of his years of service, Hezlep was recently honored with a Hometown Hero award from the Cranberry Township Sunset Rotary Club.
“It’s very much appreciated but certainly not why I do it,” he said. “If you ask the other nominees, they’d say the same thing: It’s not why we do it.”