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Ensuring safer outcomes

The message that smoke detectors save lives is one that firefighters around the nation spread every chance they get, no more so than in the fall and winter when the number of fire calls increase significantly.

A report issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compiled from data collected from fire departments throughout the United States indicated the death rate per 100 reported home fires was more than twice as high in homes without working smoke alarms.

“Smoke alarms increase the chance of getting out safely by 50 percent,” said Dan Tobin, director of marketing and communications for the Western Pennsylvania American Red Cross. “It’s the single most important thing you should have in your house.”

Huntingdon Regional Fire & Rescue (HRFR) chief Gary Garner said that the benefit of smoke alarms is twofold.

“Early detection is the key to people getting out of their residence. Early detection is key to saving lives,” Garner said. “It can also get us there quicker to help minimize damage.”

An early-morning fire Sunday morning at a hunting cabin near Shade Gap could have had a tragic outcome had it not been for the presence of smoke alarms.

“There was an issue with a fire place in the living area,” said Shade Gap fire chief Rick McMullen. “The fire got into the wall. Smoke detectors woke the two guys up. One went to call 911 and the other got a hose and started spraying the wall down with water.”

When firefighters from Shade Gap Volunteer Fire Co. got to the scene they were able to save the property.

“Without those smoke detectors, it’s very possible the men would not have woken up,” McMullen said. “Smoke detectors save lives.”

Many homes in the region are either without smoke alarms entirely, do not have enough smoke alarms or have non-functioning alarms.

“Smoke alarms have a lifespan on them. A lot of times, people say they have them, but they are 20-30 years old. After the 10-year mark, they can no longer detect smoke even if the test button still works,” Tobin said. “Most new alarms have a date on the back so you know if they are 10 years old or older. If it doesn’t have a date on it, get rid of it.”

Tobin added that there should be a smoke alarm on every level of the home and in every sleeping area of the house.

“The holiday season is a good time to remind everyone about the importance of smoke alarms,” said Garner. “Make sure the smoke alarms’ batteries are good. If you don’t have smoke alarms, get them.”

The NFPA report revealed that dead batteries were the cause of 24 percent of all smoke alarm failures.

“The other piece of this is to make sure you and your family members know how to get out of the house in an emergency,” Tobin said. “Have a couple different ways to get out of the house and know that it will be dark and filled with smoke. Once you are outside, make sure the whole family knows where to meet.”

Having a meeting place is vital so that all members of the household can easily be accounted for in an emergency.

“It could be the difference between life and death,” he said. “Make sure that kids know where to go so they don’t hide. Work with your children so they know where to go and where to meet.”

The American Red Cross has installed over a million smoke alarms in households across the country since 2014 and can provide them for those who need them.

“The way our program works is we do install free smoke alarms in homes. Part of this is done through ‘Sound the Alarm’ events where we go street by street and door to door,” said Tobin. “But we can do it at any time as well.”

For more information or to sign up to have smoke alarms installed, call (412) 925-9359.

SHCSB members reorganize

The Southern Huntingdon County School Board will move into the new year with the same leaders at the helm, as they were retained during the annual reorganization meeting Tuesday night.

The meeting began with board members JoAnne Wakefield serving as temporary president.

Board member Frank Hooper made a motion to re-elect Brent Stoltzfus as board president. The motion was seconded by Heather McClure and agreed upon unanimously.

Stoltzfus then opened nomination requests to elect a vice president. Wakefield made a motion Hooper continue as board vice president, which McClure seconded and board members agreed upon unanimously.

Moving forward, Hooper made a motion to nominate Michael Brown as the Huntingdon County Career and Technology Center (HCCTC) representative for the district for three years. Seconded by Wakefield, the motion was agreed upon.

Candy Sonnenberg then made a motion to elect Stoltzfus as an alternate HCCTC representative for the district for three years, which was seconded by Brown and approved.

Ben Whitsel will retain his position as the TIU representative for the district until June 30, 2019.

Hooper then made a motion, which was seconded by Sonnenberg, to nominate Jerry Hammons as the legislative chairperson. Hammons will represent the school board at state meetings where legislative briefings on school board issues are held.

The motion to approve the 2019 regular meetings of the Southern Huntingdon County School Board was made by Hooper, seconded by Wakefield and approved.

To finish the reorganization details, the motion to approve the 2019 workshops of the SHC school board was made by Hooper, seconded by Watkins and approved.

After the reorganization meeting, board members were approached by representatives from EI Associates, Crabtree & Rohrbaugh, CDI LR Kimball Architects Group and McKissick Architects. Each company presented a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation on their experience in transforming, combining and updating schools.

The architects each placed a bid for their services pertaining to a feasibility study on the district’s three elementary schools and was reviewed by board members during the November meeting.

Wanting to meet the individuals and learn more about the companies, district superintendent Dwayne Northcraft invited each company to do a presentation.

EI Associates of Harrisburg and who submitted a feasibility study bid at $3,000, presented first.

Representatives said their first step would be to conduct a comprehensive study of the demographics and building capacities, survey facilities, building deficiencies, price building deficiencies and then rank them by urgency.

Next, they would evaluate which option would work best for the district. The first option would be a consolidation and the second would be a collective performance of work over five or 10 years.

Crabtree & Rohrbaugh of Mechanicsburg submitted a $7,500 bid. Representatives from the company noted they have 20 years of experience working with the district.

The company’s process includes defining goals, gathering all information presented to them, and during their study, analyze that data, develop options and then present all options available to school board members.

To conclude their presentation, representatives assured board members their budget is guaranteed, as their fees are fixed, which provide lowers costs and higher values.

CDI LR Kimball Architects representatives of Ebensburg were also present Tuesday. They submitted a bid for $12,000. The firm is currently working with SHCSB on the track replacement project.

Representatives report that 80 percent of their work is with repeated clients because they’re able to establish connections and build upon those relationships.

Discussing their project plan, they would start with an assessment of the existing buildings, estimate all costs and present various design options.

McKissick Architects of Hollidaysburg was the last bid presented Tuesday night, which came in at $15,915.

Representatives assured board members their focus is on creating value in a cost effective way. McKissick Architects also performed feasibility students for the district in 1988 and 1991.

Projecting their schedule, representatives told board members it would take a total of 420 hours to complete the project.

Board members thanked all representatives for their information Tuesday night and decided conversations regarding the bids will continue in January.

Students design rebrand for local agency

Students studying within Juniata College’s Integrated Media Arts (IMA) program partnered with Huntingdon House to undertake a dynamic rebranding effort which will aid in disseminating the agency’s mission and message throughout the community.

The new marketing materials and logo were unveiled to the organization committed to supporting and advocating for survivors of domestic violence Tuesday.

“The finished product is beautiful, and all of the resources they created for us are things we would probably not have been able to afford had we not been offered the opportunity by this class,” said Nicole Houck, assistant executive director at Huntingdon House. “They did an amazing job and I’m very impressed with their work.”

Houck and Huntingdon House board president Brent Rader worked with the team of students, who were guided through the process by Ryan Gibboney, assistant professor of Integrated Media Arts.

“We approach the class and the whole semester as real-world experience,” Gibboney said. “At the start of the semester, I proposed a variety of community partnership projects. Ideally, I want them to feel some compassion about the organization they are working with.”

Several of the students felt strongly about working on the project and were excited to undertake the work.

“You have to take a holistic approach and think about the overall visual identity of the organization,” she said. “For Huntingdon House, the branding had changed frequently and those branding changes were not something that created a holistic message.”

To learn more about what Huntingdon House offered and what that visual identity should ideally encompass, Gibboney and her students spent a great deal of time working alongside the staff.

“We wanted to look at all of the services and everything they offer to really create the feeling we get from their organization,” said Gibboney.

In undertaking the project, it was quickly decided that the rebranding needed to capture the warmth and nurturing spirit of Huntingdon house.

“The whole effort is really more than just a new logo, it’s a total re-think of our outward face,” Rader said. “It’s been a pleasure to work with the Juniata Integrated Media Arts students over this semester as they crafted a rebranding strategy for Huntingdon House. We’re very proud of what we do at Huntingdon House, and of our staff, who have created a cutting edge domestic violence survivor advocacy organization in Huntingdon.”

As part of the new visual identity created by the students, Huntingdon House received updated pring and digital materials, a new logo, an updated website and enhanced social media presence. The logo was designed by junior Colin Powers.

“We have a new logo that represents what we’re about at Huntingdon House. It’s warm and inviting, has open doors, which are important in our philosophy that everyone is welcome and has an arrow signifying progress as a survivor moves toward safety and a better life,” said Rader. “The students have also redesigned all of our print materials, social media platforms, and website so that everything has a cohesive, professional appearance. We’re very pleased with the results and the finished product is gorgeous.”

Huntingdon House executive director Jean Collins said the work was especially appreciated.

“This is something we’d never be able to do if we had to do it ourselves with limited resources,” Collins said. “This was really helpful. The students were very professional and did a great deal of work for us.”

This is the second rebranding project undertaken by IMA students. The first was completed last year for the Huntingdon Community Center.

“As a final thought, we really appreciate that Ryan Gibboney, and Juniata College, choose to help community organizations in this class rather than to just work on mock projects,” Rader said. “This provides the students with real world experience, and teaches them to do good in their community.”

April Feagley / Photo by APRIL FEAGLEY  

Mike Speck placed a flag in its holder on Washington Street Wednesday morning in recognition of the National Day of Mourning proclaimed to honor the legacy of the late President George H.W. Bush, who passed away Nov. 30 at the age of 94. This year marks the 50th year for members of the Bob Geissinger family who have overseen the placement of flags for national holidays and events.

‘Grandparent scam’ circulates locally

The holidays are a time to draw close to loved ones, but some criminals are exploiting elderly family members in a scam that plays upon their affection for grandchildren or other young relatives.

While the swindle is a familiar one, an older person receives a call from someone purporting to be a loved one who is in trouble and in need of financial assistance, there seems to be an upswing in the number of incidents.

“We had an elderly woman come in to report a call from someone who said she was her granddaughter,” said Huntingdon Borough Police (HPD) Chief Jeff Buckley. “She said the caller said she had been in an accident in a rental car somewhere in Virginia and needed $2,000.”

The aptly named “grandparent scam” seems to be circulating with renewed strength as the holiday season approaches.

“She said it sounded like her granddaughter, but some things didn’t make sense,” Buckley said. “She told them so, hung up and called her granddaugher, who was fine.”

The call came from a 1(800) number, which she questioned, but was told the call came from a police station.

“They had names, they had a lot of good information and were very believable. They almost had to have researched social media. They had good information and enough to make someone believe the story,” he said. “But, she thought something was up and decided to call.”

In addition to reporting the call to HPD, she also reported the incident to state police.

Buckley advised residents to beware of any callers asking for money, no matter how compelling the tale or urgent the need.

“Always confirm in situations where someone is requesting money,” he said.

He also encouraged those with older relations to warn them about the currently circulating scam.

“People who have relatives they feel might be at risk of something like this should talk to them about it and maybe come up with a code word or something only family members would know so they would be able to give that in the event of an emergency,” said Buckley.

Those who are contacted by scammers or who have concerns about suspicious calls are encouraged to reach out to law enforcement to report them.

Commissioners approve TAN

After being tabled last week, pending review from the treasurer’s office, a $1,750,000 tax application notice (TAN) for 2019 was approved by the Huntingdon County Commissioners at their weekly meeting Tuesday morning.

Bids from four banks were opened during the Nov. 27 meeting by solicitor Peter McManamon, but the decision to vote on them was tabled until Tuesday because county treasurer Susan Harry was out of the office at the time.

The bids received were from First National Bank for 2.69 percent interest and 2.10 percent interest if deposited in an interest-bearing account; Juniata Valley Bank for 2.81 percent interest and 1 percent interest if deposited in an interest-bearing account; CBT Bank for a variable interest rate of 3.383 percent and with Community State Bank for 2.599 percent interest, but with no interest-bearing account; and MCS Bank for 3.85 percent interest.

Following a suggestion from Harry, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners unanimously approved Community State Bank for the TAN and First National Bank for the 2.10 percent interest-bearing account for the deposit.

Commissioner Scott Walls noted the TAN is a yearly loan taken out to cover the costs until tax revenue starts to come in each year, and it’s required by law to have the TAN paid off by the end of the fiscal year.

In speaking of other fiscal matters, board of commissioners’ chair Mark Sather announced the proposed 2019 county budget is now available for review.

“The budget was officially advertised Nov. 30, and a budget hearing will be held in the commissioners’ meeting room (at the Huntingdon County Courthouse) at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11,” said Sather. “We plan to take action on the budget at 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 20.”

Also Tuesday, Joe Thompson, county emergency management agency director, along with EMA staff, were presented with the Ambassador of Excellence certificate from the National Weather Service for being a WeatherReady Nation agency by meteorologist Peter Jung.

Thompson also noted he and his agency were issued a citation from state Sen. Jake Corman for the same honor honor.

Thompson was also at Tuesday’s meeting to gain approval to submit the Hazardous Mitigation Grant application from the state Emergency Management Agency.

“We’re updating the existing multi-jurisdictional hazard mitigation plan, which is required to be updated every five years,” he said. “The last time it was updated was in 2015.”

Thompson noted the estimated project cost, which includes updating the plan for weather-related incidents, hazardous materials spills/emergencies and several other natural and man-made disasters, will cost approximately $50,000.

The planning grant program will provide 75 percent of the cost, with the county expected to match 25 percent with funds or in-kind services.

The commissioners also approved executing the Housing Preservation Grant from USDA, which the county received earlier this year.

“We received $71,718.23, which is more than what we applied for,” said county planning director Mark Colussy. “We originally applied for the maximum, which was $50,000, but we learned we were getting more when USDA said they had the confidence we were going to use these funds.”

Melody Mason, community development grant administrator, noted the county planning department is working with other agencies, including Weatherization Inc., Center for Community Action and Huntingdon Area Habitat for Humanity to find those who are in need of emergency repairs that fall under income guidelines.

“This is based on need, so the most-needed cases will be priority,” she said. “This doesn’t have the restrictions other grants do, so this allows us to help low-income residents.”

Mason said she plans to meet with representatives from the other agencies in the new year to get started in earnest.

“This is a two-year grant, so it will expire in December 2020,” she said.

Celina Seftas, manager of the Huntingdon County Conservation District, also gained approval for an updated memorandum of understanding to be approved by the commissioners, which includes ways the county and the conservation district work together through programs like ag land preservation.

As part of the memorandum of understanding, the county’s solicitor will also be legal counsel for the conservation district in matters dealing with ag land preservation.

The commissioners also approved a proposal from Forensic Pathology Associates for autopsy and associated fees for 2019.

County coroner Paul Sharum explained the firm will only be used on an as-needed basis if closer doctors are unable to perform autopsies.

A contract renewal between the county jail and Mainstream Counseling was approved for services for 14 hours a week for $48 per hour for 48 weeks, or $32,256 total for 480 units.

The termination of county custodial staff member Graham Wright was also approved, effective Nov. 27.