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Unsung Heroes Series: Keeping Pittsfield Moving

Traffic is a big part of life in America – if people can’t get to work, they can’t put food on the table and kids can’t get to school. Regardless of if you’re driving city streets or country roads, at some point you’re going to come across a traffic light. Those three-tone beacons dictate and regulate when to stop and go – the most basic concept of travel. So if those lights aren’t working, you have a problem. In the second part of WAMC’s weeklong series on unsung local heroes, WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Jim Levulis shares the story of the man who’s spent his life working on the red, yellow and green in Pittsfield.“My father had the job and he retired in ’74 and he said ‘Jeez Rog, take this job,’” recalls Roger Barzousky. “And I says, ‘Hmm, I don’t know whether I can afford to take a job making four dollars an hour.’”

Well, Barzousky took the job. For the past four decades, he’s worked for the city of Pittsfield in about every department related to public works.

“Eventually everybody else got laid off or through attrition and I was the only one left in 1984,” he said. “So from ’84 till now, the city of Pittsfield only had one traffic signal maintainer.”

So that’s 76 traffic lights and one man with two hands, a truck and some tools.

Barzousky was born and raised in Pittsfield, graduating from Pittsfield High in 1968. He spent two years in the Army stationed at Ft. Hood in Texas. Trained as a carpenter in high school, he started working for the city of Pittsfield while studying electrical engineering at Berkshire Community College. While he still is on call for a contracted company, he retired from the city of Pittsfield two years ago.

“We got to do a job on School Street, we got do a job over on Stoddard Avenue, I got a job at Springside, I got two lights to do,” rattled off Barzousky.

Now, take a moment and think about the last time you saw a traffic light out – probably a good chance it was during a storm, right? So what do you do if your job is to make sure the lights are working? You go out. And that’s what Barzousky did one frigid day when there was an issue in Park Square, smack dab in the heart of downtown.

“There was a mast arm sitting in the middle of the island and it really controlled the whole ball of wax out there so it had to get back up,” Barzousky recalled. “It was a real, real cold, cold winter day. It took us that whole night. I believe we got finished around four in the morning. It was a cold, cold night. But we got to working. I got it back working. I had the department of public services crewmen come out and they were helping using the crane. We just took care of it. It just had to get done.”

“You can call Roger 24/7, 365, he’s always available,” said Jim Morris. “If I had to go through city hall in an emergency, they’re closed at say 5 or 6 o’clock at night, it’s all over. You have to wait for the next business day. For Roger, the business is every day. So if there’s a problem we can call him at a moment’s notice and he can run out and make something safe and secure for the city.”  

Morris has known Barzousky for seven years. He works for Pine Ridge Technologies, a company that does electrical work for the city of Pittsfield.

“He brings a world of knowledge between traffic signals, street lighting and fire alarms, he’s well-rounded in all aspects of the trade,” Morris said.

Barzousky admits that it’s been nerve-wracking being the sole person responsible for the traffic lights, asking himself if he’d be able to fix it. He credits his mentor Irv Courier for teaching him what he knows.

“I always asked him ‘How do you fix an intersection before you even get to it?’” Barzousky said. “I know now how he did it. It’s because they become part of you so you know just about everything about that intersection. So you say ‘Well it can be this, this, this and this. So mostly it’s that.’ So you go there and you say ‘OK, it’s fixed.’”

Barzousky says he’s been trying to pass along his knowledge for years now. He says he took the job in the 70s because there was no construction work and money was tight. So 40 something years later — why stick with it?

“The satisfaction of getting an intersection or keeping them all working,” he said. “Keeping people happy. You get it in your blood and it’s tough to get out.”

Like most people, Barzousky doesn’t like stopping for a red light. But it’s fair to say he sees something a little different when he looks up.

“If you keep the traffic light running, you keep the traffic moving,” Barzousky said. “Nobody likes to wait around a traffic light.”

Click here for other stories in WAMC's series on unsung local heroes.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org