Pennsylvania Funeral Drawing Firefighters

More than 1,000 firefighters are expected to attend a memorial service Saturday for Keith Hess, a Shippensburg firefighter who was killed Monday at a house fire in Huntingdon County.

By Wednesday afternoon, more than 150 fire companies had notified the 911 center that they planned to bring fire equipment to the event, which will begin at 2:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Shippensburg Area Senior High School.

West End Fire and Rescue in Shippensburg and Hess' family agreed to a memorial service with full honors -- uniformed pallbearers, fire apparatus draped in black, firefighters in dress uniforms and white gloves, and an arch formed by two ladder trucks at the cemetery's entrance.

Hess' casket will be carried on top of an engine to the cemetery. Company members will walk beside the engine, followed by other firefighters.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the cause of the fire that claimed the life of Hess and injured two other firefighters continued in the tiny village of Blairs Mills in eastern Huntingdon County, not far from the Franklin County and Juniata County lines.

While no cause had been announced by Wednesday afternoon, debris had been cleared from the house and Pennsylvania State Police investigators were seen examining an electrical outlet in the living room of the gutted home at 246 Hotel Road.

According to the sister of homeowner Kimberly Burdge, that may have been where the fire started Monday afternoon.

Katina Burdge, who was at the fire scene Wednesday, said her sister and Kim's 3-year-old son, Logan, discovered the fire after they came home from church on Monday afternoon.

"Kim was checking her phone messages when she said Logan came to her with a strange look on his face," Katina Burdge said. "She said she knew something was wrong. She ran into the living room and saw the wall on fire behind the couch. She yelled for Logan to get out and yell for help, then she got a pan of water to throw on the fire. Once Logan got outside and started yelling, she said she ran out with him."

Neither Kim Burdge nor her son was injured in the fire.

Asked about Katina Burdge's account of what happened, state Trooper Daniel Sneath of the Huntingdon station would say only that the fire marshal had not yet determined a cause in the blaze.

Hess, of 9897 Possum Hollow Road, was killed when a chimney collapsed in the Burdge home, causing part of the second floor to give way. The 22-year-old firefighter suffocated after being trapped under the debris, according to Franklin County Coroner Jeff Conner.

Injured in the collapse, which occurred after the fire had been extinguished and firefighters were inside the structure looking for hot spots, were Assistant Chief Cory Connelly, 30, and Dave Ocker, 20, both members of Cumberland Valley Hose Company No. 2 in Shippensburg.

Hess was a volunteer with West End Fire and Rescue in Shippensburg and a paid firefighter-emergency medical technician with Fannett-Metal Fire and Ambulance Company.

West End member Charlie Westcott said it's no surprise that hundreds of firefighters will attend Hess's funeral on Saturday.

"It's a bond ... a commitment to preserve life and property," Westcott said.

A viewing for Hess will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday in Fogelsanger-Bricker Funeral Home, 112 W. King St., Shippensburg, with family members expected to be present from 6 to 8 p.m.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Keith Hess Memorial Fund, West End Fire and Rescue, 49 Lurgan Ave., Shippensburg 17257.

The tradition of a firefighter's funeral probably dates back to the 1700s, when the first fire companies formed in American cities, according to local historians.

In the rural areas, such a service most likely didn't get started until the mid-1900s, they said.

The last full service held for a fallen firefighter in Franklin County was in 1988 for Tom H. Blessing Jr., who had a fatal heart attack while unloading hose at a fire at the Wolf Avenue complex in Chambersburg.

The largest service and processional locally, according to area firefighters, was in July 1977 for Fayetteville Fire Chief James W. Cutchall, who was shot and killed by Gary Rock as Cutchall responded to a fire Rock had set at his own home off Black Gap Road. Rock, convicted of murder in the incident, is in Huntingdon State Prison.

More than 2,700 people attended the service for Cutchall in sweltering heat at the Chambersburg Area Senior High School. Firefighters came from across the United States and apparatus came from as far as the New England states.

Cutchall's uniform and helmet were on his casket, which was carried to Lincoln Cemetery, Chambersburg, in one of Fayetteville's engines. The bullet hole in the front window of the fire engine had not yet been repaired.

The small town of Hustontown, nestled in the hills of northwest Fulton County, was the site of a memorial service for three firefighters who died of carbon monoxide poisoning while cleaning a well in May 1990.

The deaths of James F. Chesnut Jr., Richard L. Hershey and Thomas L. Lane are the only ones in the Hustontown Area Volunteer Fire Company's 38-year history.

About 2,000 people attended the service, including firefighters from Pennsylvania and the Northeast, in the Forbes Road High School.

The caskets were carried by firefighters and their firefighting gear was carried by officers.

At the cemetery, a fire siren was blown for each of fallen firefighters.

Fire companies have until 9 tonight to notify Franklin County Emergency Services at 264-2813 as to how many people will attend Hess' funeral. Companies are to bring only one piece of apparatus.

Firefighters are asked to be in the auditorium at SASHS by 2 p.m.

Survivors of firefighters killed in the line of duty could have access to several different types of benefits, said Mary Ellis, managing director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Emmittsburg, Md.

The foundation learned a firefighter died from the news late Monday evening, Ellis said.

As soon as the foundation feels it's a respectful time, another family will contact Hess' family, according to Ellis. The family, which has gone through a similar situation, is part of the Fire Service Survivors Network.

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