William D. Purifoy, a longtime Homestead fire chief hailed for being big of spirit as well as body, died Monday from heart disease. He was 53.
It was common to see Mr. Purifoy -- all 6 feet, 8 inches of him -- sitting with other members of the Homestead Volunteer Fire Department outside the 9th Avenue firehouse in the 17 years he led the brigade. His regular presence was all the more notable since the giant former football player had usually just put in a full detective shift at the Allegheny County District Attorney's office, tracking down firearms and talking to murder suspects. He kept on working as a detective even after being shot in the line of duty early in his career.
"The chief thing with Billy Purifoy that people noticed first is his size, but what I remember most was his heart and smile. He could light up a room," said Dennis Logan, chief of detectives for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. "You couldn't miss him. His smile and deep laughter would permeate around the room.
"Not too many people were a detective and fire chief at the same time. When the whistle went off he answered it," Mr. Logan said.
"He was a big bear and a nice guy," said Homestead Mayor Betty Esper. "He was very laid back and never seemed to get excited about anything."
Mr. Purifoy attended Steel Valley High School and then the University of Tulsa from 1978-82, whereupon he was a seventh round draft pick for the Dallas Cowboys. He then played two seasons with the Arizona Wranglers of the USFL (the second on injured reserve) then went to work for the police department and Sheriff's office in Tulsa, Okla.
In November 1991, he was shot in the chest while investigating a Tulsa shooting but survived due to his protective vest. He was named the 1991 Sheriff's deputy of the year.
He returned to Homestead in 1993 and was hired as a part-time police officer there the following year. He joined the district attorney's detective squad in 1999.
Mr. Purifoy took over as fire chief of the volunteer Homestead department -- founded in part by his late father Donald, a longtime Homestead councilman -- in 1995 and served until December.
"He was a friend and mentor and father figure to people. He treated everyone in the fire department like his family," said current Homestead Chief Jim Barca. "A lot of people looked up to him, not just in Homestead."
He is survived by his mother Frances; daughters Sherisse and Courtney; son William Jr.; brother Donald Jr.; and sisters Cheryl Bowe and Christina Purifoy.
Visitation will be held 2-9 p.m. Friday at Tunie Funeral Home, 218 E. 11th Avenue in Homestead.
A funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Clark Memorial Baptist Church, 1301 Glenn St., Homestead, and burial will be in Homewood Cemetery.
Tim McNulty: email@example.com or 412-263-1581. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM