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Fatal fire investigated

A tragic structure fire at a home in Huntingdon Borough claimed the life of one individual early Thursday morning.

Officers from the Huntingdon Borough Police Department (HPD) and state police at Huntingdon were the first on scene, responding to a 911 call reporting fire with entrapment at 228 Mifflin St., which is a duplex attached to 230 Mifflin St. around 1:45 a.m.

Huntingdon Borough Police Chief Jeff Buckley told The Daily News this morning the deceased victim was an adult female and that authorities were in the process of notifying next of kin. The resident of 230 Mifflin St. was evacuated quickly.

“Both of our officers went and made efforts to enter the side where the fire was,” Buckley said. “The neighbors at 230 Mifflin St. were removed by police when they arrived. She was disabled and removed by the state troopers. She needed aid getting out and they physically removed her. I believe the actions of police saved her life.”

Crews from Huntingdon Regional Fire & Rescue (HRFR) quickly began to battle the blaze.

“Thanks to the borough police and the state police, they got the resident of 230 Mifflin St. out safely,” said HRFR chief Gary Garner. “When our crews got here, 228 was almost fully engulfed.”

Volunteers from HRFR were joined by those from Alexandria, Marklesburg, Petersburg, Smithfield, Mill Creek and Stone Creek Valley volunteer fire companies and Huntingdon Ambulance, with companies from Centre, Mifflin and Blair counties providing mutual aid.

“It was great work by all the departments,” Garner said.

Huntingdon County Coroner Paul Sharum was called to the scene and pronounced the victim deceased at 4:42 a.m. An autopsy to determine the cause of death will be conducted at 4 p.m. today, Thursday, Nov. 29, at Mount Nittany Medical Center, State College.

As of 5 a.m., the state police fire marshal was on site conducting an investigation. As of press time it was unknown who owns the building and if the structure was insured.

“They are working on determining a cause,” said Garner.

Portions of Mifflin, William Smith and Washington streets were closed as emergency crews accessed hydrants and the scene was cleared just before 6 a.m.

Garner emphasized the importance of smoke detectors.

“Everybody needs to make sure they have smoke detectors,” he said. “It’s important to have smoke detectors in your house and to make sure that they work.”

This morning’s fire is the second fatal fire in the county this year. A 27-year-old woman and 36-year-old died Oct. 20 as a result of a structure fire on Broad Top Mountain Road in Dudley.

Holiday season ramping up for Toys for Tots volunteers

Things are moving forward to make sure area children have a merry Christmas, as volunteers with the Huntingdon County Toys for Tots are busy preparing for the holiday rush.

Wendy Williams, coordinator for Huntingdon County Toys for Tots, said she and her volunteers are preparing to move the toys to the Huntingdon Community Center this Sunday, Dec. 2, for distribution to families in the coming weeks.

“We have toys in three different areas right now,” said Williams. “We have some at Huntingdon Fiberglass Products, a storage unit I have and at my house.”

She said she’s still in need of volunteers to help move toys.

“I have enough carts, but I just need manpower,” said Williams. “I just need the manpower to move. If we get stuff moved Sunday, we can start to fill the applications we’ve gotten so far.”

Williams said she’s received 90-100 applications from area families so far, and they’re also the organization that helps with agencies like Children and Youth Services and Head Start.

She said she’ll also receive help from inmates at SCI Huntingdon to help set up tables and take bar codes early next week. She plans to start distributing gifts to families the week of Dec. 9.

Additionally, Williams also noted there are about 150 boxes and donation containers at area businesses, which will be collected Wednesday, Dec. 12.

Fundraisers and other activities have also been successful so far this year.

“We have about 30 bars and clubs in the county that are participating in the ‘Battle of the Trains’ that will end Sunday, Dec. 30,” said Williams. “The cash party with the American Legion (Post 520, Alexandria) was successful as well. I don’t have totals for that event, but everyone came together with the help of the Legion, so we want to thank them for letting us have it there.”

The Huntingdon Borough Police Department (HPD) is also helping the Toys for Tots campaign.

HPD Officer Corey Stuller plans to fill a police cruiser with donated toys he collects during the Huntingdon Christmas Tree-Lighting Celebration Friday, Nov. 30.

“All proceeds will go to the Toys for Tots program, and we are looking for new unopened and unwrapped toys of any kind,” he said. “Also, monetary donations are welcome if people do not bring toys. Any money donated will go to Toys for Tots.”

Stuller said he and his fellow officers wanted to do something to bring people together during the tree-lighting event.

“I wanted do something with hopes to bring more people together at our tree lighting, and what better way to bring them together than to give back to the community,” he said. “This is our first year doing this, and I’d love to see a good turnout and and a stuffed car. Our town supports us, and this is just one way we can give back to them.”

Michel’s Corp., the company constructing the Mariner East 2 pipeline through the county will also make a donation again this year.

Williams said while there are fewer Michel’s employees based in the county, any help in the form of donations is still appreciated.

Williams is still accepting applications from those in need of Christmas assistance. To volunteer for Toys for Tots, call 506-6229.

Lighting celebration to be held Friday

The Huntingdon Christmas Tree-Lighting Celebration will officially usher in the holiday season from 6-8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, with an abundance of family-oriented activities and fun to delight all ages.

A portion of Washington Street, between Sixth and Eighth streets, will be closed beginning at 4 p.m. as preparations for the festivities begin.

“We wanted to create an atmosphere that will become a tradition for families year after year,” said Debbie Higgins, who co-organized the event with Deb Hickes.

Food vendors including Standing Stone Coffee Co., Sam’s Hot Dogs, The Garlic Clove and Bickle’s hot sausage and funnel cakes will open at 6 p.m. and carriage rides by Dayze Gone Bye, caricatures by Chip Mock and a photo booth by Wildside Productions will begin at the same time continuing through 8 p.m.

“The carriage rides will take off from the area across from the OIP at the Seventh Street intersection and will go up one block and come back around,” said Huntingdon Borough Mayor Dave Wessels.

Mock’s artwork, sponsored by Mutual Benefit, and the photo booth will be free to the public. Carriage rides are sponsored by J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital and will be provided at a cost of $1 with all proceeds to benefit the Huntingdon Food Pantry.

“The Hesston Community Chapel will be doing a Live Nativity,” Hickes said. “The nativity will be surrounded by luminaries provided by Thompson’s Candle Co.”

Children can visit with Santa Claus at Sweetheart’s Confectionary from 6-6:45 p.m. to share their Christmas wishes with the “Jolly Old Elf” himself.

The Huntingdon Salvation Army will be providing free hot chocolate to visitors as well.

“There are a whole lot of free events taking place along with the food vendors,” said Higgins. “It’s a great place to come for the evening, grab dinner and get into the holiday spirit.”

Sounds of the season will fill the street as the Victorian Carolers of Take Note gather around the community Christmas tree to share favorite carols.

Students from the Huntingdon Dance Academy will entertain the crowd from 6:45-7 p.m. with scenes from The Nutcracker.

Huntingdon Area High School alumni familiar with the carol, “Lay Down Your Staff,” are encouraged to join the members of the Belles and Beaus at 6:45 p.m. at the Medicine Shoppe prior to a procession to the Christmas Tree to open up the lighting event.

“It’s the biggest tree Huntingdon has seen in many years,” Higgins said.

The approximately 27-foot tall tree was purchased by Team Chevrolet and provided by Tuckaway Tree Farm near McAlevys Fort.

Around 7 p.m., Hickes will present a children’s Christmas story, “Gander Finds Christmas,” with live interpretation of the tale.

“A children’s story, written by Deb Hickes, will be presented. Children of all ages are welcome to join her for that story,” said Higgins. “That will be followed by a song that will depict the story as it is acted out.”

After the tree and the downtown are officially lit, everyone is welcome to view “Elf” at Huntingdon Clifton 5 for a donation of a canned good to benefit the Huntingdon Food Pantry.

In keeping with the season of giving, the Huntingdon Borough Police Department will be leading an effort to fill a cruiser with donations for Toys for Tots. Both toys and monetary donations will be accepted.

Other holiday events taking place this weekend include the Huntingdon Community Center Christmas Bazaar today, Thursday, Nov. 29, through Saturday, Dec. 1; the Standing Stone Garden Club’s Hometown Holiday Celebration “Woodland Wonders” at the Huntingdon Historical Society’s McMurtrie House and the Huntingdon County Library Friday, Nov. 30, through Sunday, Dec. 2; Christmas tours of the Woods-Brown Mansion on the corner of 10th and Washington streets in Huntingdon from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. ($5 admission with all funds donated to county food pantries) and the 26th annual Festival of Song at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Huntingdon Presbyterian Church.

The annual Huntingdon Area Christmas Parade will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15.

Vital services now in crisis

Pennsylvania’s fire and emergency medical services are in crisis, lacking in both funding and manpower, was the message delivered as part of state Senate Resolution 6.

The stark facts were laid out in the 95-page report which was first undertaken in January 2017 and presented by Senate Resolution 6 Commission Chairman Sen. Randy Vulakovich Wednesday.

“These are vital services to the state,” said state Rep. Rich Irvin. “There is no way Pennsylvania can afford to make up any of the volunteer services through a paid fire department of paid EMS.”

A study conducted by the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute in 2001 placed the value of volunteer emergency services at $6 billion. Today, the figure may be as high as $10 billion.

“The number of firefighters went from 300,000 in the 1970s to 38,000 now and it’s dropping on an annual basis,” Irvin said.

Ninety percent of the 2,462 fire companies in the state are manned by an all-volunteer force.

“The last thing we can do whenever 90 percent of the Commonwealth’s emergency services population is made up of volunteers is to let fire companies or EMS fail financially,” he said.

Similarly, the number of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) has decreased by 6,000 since 2012 and the number of paramedics has fallen by 4,000 in that same time period.

“Our emergency medical services are dealing with an exorbitant amount of additional calls due to the opioid crisis,” he said.

Funding for equipment and operational expenses is also a pressing concern.

“Most organizations are looking at spending a majority of their time fundraising and training in addition to responding to accidents and emergency calls,” said Irvin. “It’s putting a hurt on rural communities.”

The report contained a number of recommendations for aiding emergency services, including promoting regionalization of fire service and the requirement that sprinkler systems be installed in all new residential construction.

“Combining administrative costs may be one way to cut costs,” he said.

The subject of municipal fire tax is one many in Huntingdon County are familiar with as county fire companies strive to maintain their service to their communities.

“We have looked at a package of bills to help volutneer fire companies and EMS,” he said. “I think it’s very important that we enable our local communities to fund their volunteer fire companies, but there are measures other than local property taxes.”

Irvin shared his belief that other measures need to be explored as do legislation to support those alternatives.

“I really do feel that we need to give our local municipalities a better way of helping local fire and EMS,” Irvin said. “Whether that be a per household tax or something of that nature, we have to see how that can move through legislation.”

Overall, the findings — while not surprising — bring vital issues to light.

“I’m very glad to see the Senate Resolution 6 report come to light so we can bring some well-deserved and needed attention to light,” he said. “We need to make sure our EMS and fire companies survive.”

County jobless rate drops .2 percent in Oct.

The county’s jobless rate decreased by .2 percent to 5.3 percent during the month of October, but continues to be one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

Pennsylvania’s jobless rate kept a similar trend during October, staying the same at 4.1 percent. Chester County maintained the lowest jobless rate at 3.3 percent, while Forest County held the highest unemployment rate at 6.4 percent.

“Nothing really notable happened this month,” said Jeff Newman, industry and business analyst for the state department of labor and industry. “It sort of just has been hovering in this 5 to 5.5 percent area for several months now, which is kind of a good thing.”

Neighboring counties such as Blair, Franklin, Juniata and Mifflin counties maintained unemployment rates at 4.3 percent, 3.7 percent, 4.0 percent and 4.8 percent respectively.

“What is more significant I think,” said Newman, “is that in February, the county’s rate was at 6.1 percent, so the trend has been going down. I think we will start seeing crazy numbers and movement in January with the holiday season and having the seasonally adjusted numbers.”

Newman explained that many private and non-farm jobs maintained employment numbers in October, with leisure and hospitality seeing a slight decrease and local government seeing a slight increase.

“There wasn’t a big decrease in the leisure and hospitality category, but we can expect that this time of year with the weather getting colder and things closing,” said Newman. “Local government increasing could still be reflecting teachers and educational staff coming back as well. Overall though, the rate has been remaining steady across the state.”