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He keeps crosswalks safe

Crossing guard dodges danger to protect school kids

Posted: April 20, 2009 10:31 p.m.
Updated: April 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Francis Scaramella, 62, is a city crossing guard near Valencia Valley School.

 
He knows your name, the names of everyone in your family (pets included), where you live, and, for those who live near Valencia Valley School in Valencia, he watches your house.

If you have a child who attends Valencia Valley, chances are you know Francis Scaramella, 62, a city crossing guard who records the names of everyone he meets in a book so that his greetings to those people each day are more personal.

"Francis is our hero," said Cathy McNulty, a teacher's aide at Valencia Valley. "His is the first smile I see in the morning."

Parents, students and school staff echoed McNulty's sentiments.

Scaramella is one of 27 crossing guards in the city of Santa Clarita. He's been a guard near Valencia Valley for seven years.

"I really just enjoy people," Scaramella said on a recent school day while scanning the streets for children and any potential danger.
He said he does more than just escort people safely through the crosswalk. He keeps a watchful eye on the neighborhood, making sure there are no suspicious characters looking to burglarize homes, and he scans for child predators, too.

"I wouldn't let anything happen to any of my kids," Scaramella said.

Like a member of the secret service, he said he'd instinctively throw himself between the danger and the kid if it came down to that.
Scaramella grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania. He left his home there for the San Fernando Valley in 1962, where he took a job with the United States Postal Service.

He served as a letter carrier and supervisor, and in 1975 moved to Santa Clarita to work out the rest of his postal-service career.

"Post-office work is extremely physical," Scaramella said. "I may be kinda like a jack-in-the-box out here, going back and forth across the street, but it's nothing like working for the post office where you're lifting heavy trays, jumping in and out of the truck all day long. When you get home, you're ready to retire for the evening."

In 2000, after 36 years with the postal service, Scaramella retired for good.

But it wasn't long before he took work as a crossing guard, which seemed to be a natural step. Scaramella was used to dealing with people and working outdoors - rain or shine.

He picked up five hours a day, Monday through Friday - the perfect schedule and the perfect job, he said.

Working as a crossing guard has its problems, however. Guards throughout Los Angeles County have reported daily insults, obscenities and rude gestures from motorists.

In the seven years Scaramella has been a crossing guard, he said he's had just two bad days on the job. "Driver altercations," he explained. "But nothing too bad."

Working as a crossing guard also has its dangers. According to the latest nationwide study conducted by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 14 crossing guards lost their lives in the line of duty in 2007, and 13 were injured on the job.

Though Scaramella has never been hit, he said he witnesses what he calls "whooshers" speed through his crosswalk at least once a month.

He's also seen a lot of close calls and experienced at least half a dozen himself - some incidents where vehicles have slid to a stop, only inches from his body.

Some crossing guards aren't so lucky. In January of 2007, according to Santa Clarita city records, a motorist struck a crossing guard at the intersection of Decoro Drive and Vista Delgado Drive near Arroyo Seco Junior High. The guard was badly injured.

And not long ago, right down the street from Scaramella's post, a motorist's car tapped a kid's rolling backpack as the student darted across the street with the backpack in tow.

"It can be very dangerous out here," Scaramella said. "But I've never considered quitting the job because of that."

Scaramella's wife, Karen, acknowledged the danger in her husband's line of work.

"I should be worried about his safety," she said. "But I'm just not. He's very alert." Her husband also really enjoys his job. And that makes her happy, she said.

Valencia Valley faculty, students and families are also happy, according to Valencia Valley Principal Tammi Rainville. They're happy to have Scaramella. "If he misses a day, people come in and ask if he's OK."

Nancy Stafford, a Valencia Valley parent, said Scaramella is very loved. "He's part of the family."

Scaramella said he feels the love. Past Valencia Valley students have come back to visit him. School faculty involves him in school activities. He's treated like a celebrity outside of school surroundings.

Asked if he does the work solely for the joy of it, Scaramella said, "No. I need the extra money. The rest," he added, "is a bonus."

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