Details Emerge In Pennsylvania Firefighter's Death

A Shippensburg firefighter died Monday after part of a old house collapsed on him and two others as they battled a fire in Huntingdon County.


Funeral & Memorial Information

A Shippensburg firefighter died Monday after part of a old house collapsed on him and two others as they battled a fire in Huntingdon County.

Keith Hess, 22, of the 9800 block of Possum Hollow Road, was a volunteer with West End Fire and Rescue Co. and a paid EMT and firefighter for Fannett Metal Fire Dept. in Dry Run.

Franklin County Coroner Jeff Conner said Tuesday that Hess was on duty with Fannett Metal around 3 p.m. Monday when he responded to a structure fire at 246 Hotel Road in Blairs Mills.

Conner said Hess was performing "salvage and overhaul" on the first floor with Shippensburg firefighters Cory Connelly and Dave Ocker around 5 p.m., after the fire had been brought under control, when a chimney in the center of the structure collapsed.

The falling structure collapsed the second floor onto the three firefighters, Conner said.

One man was able to escape on his own while the other two, including Hess, had to be rescued, the coroner said.

State police investigator Daniel Sneath says there were "a multitude" of firefighters inside the building at the time of the collapse.

Despite "heroic efforts" of fellow firefighters and EMS and the crew of Hershey Life Lion, Conner said, Hess died at Chambersburg Hospital at 6:07 p.m.

The official cause of his death is "compressional asphyxia." The exact manner of his death remains "undetermined."

W. Mervin Fogelsanger is thought to be the only other Shippensburg firefighter ever to die in action. He fell victim to an apparent heart attack in February 1969 while battling a huge downtown blaze in the first block of East King Street.

Connelly, 30, and Ocker, 20, have been released from the hospital and are now "resting at home with their families," said a press release from Cumberland Valley Hose Co. Fire Chief Scott A. Kitner.

Kitner says the men were trapped in the structure for about 10 minutes before they were rescued.

Blairs Mills is a village of about 800 people near the border of Juniata and Huntingdon counties, about 19 miles northwest of Shippensburg and 30 miles west of Carlisle.

State police trooper Charles Aungst of the Huntingdon barracks reports the fire was at the intersection of Hotel Road and Tuscarora Creek Road in Tell Township.

Police say the building was owned by Kimberly Burdge of Blairs Mills. Fannett-Metal Fire Chief Sam Peterson says the building is a total loss.

No residents were injured in the fire, officials say.

Fannett-Metal and West End were among 11 stations responding.

Investigation into the fire's cause continues through the state police fire marshal and state police.

The West End station was out of service Monday night, with other fire stations serving backup duty. Many of the company's members were sequestered in their quarters while others gathered quietly near apparatus in the station.

By last night, West End equipment and some personnel were back on the job, but the company was still getting support from other companies to complement their manpower.

Community Deals with Death of Fireman

The death of fireman Keith Hess Monday spread grief throughout the emergency response community, but the tragedy devastated two Franklin County companies in particular.

Hess, 22, a lieutenant at Shippensburg's West End Fire and Rescue Co. and a paid firefighter and EMT for the Fannett-Metal Fire and Ambulance Co. in Path Valley, perished while on duty with the Fannett-Metal station.

That makes the loss no easier to swallow for WEFR members.

West End Deputy Chief Jeff Coombe choked back tears as he read a prepared statement at a Tuesday afternoon press conference about the fire and Hess' death.

"All that had the pleasure of knowing and working with Lt. Hess regarded him as a great friend, firefighter, officer and employee," Coombe said.

Fannett-Metal Capt. Jason Peterson says members of the Path Valley company are stung by the loss of Hess, who joined the company ranks in 1999.

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