Keith Hess was named West End's Firefighter of the Year in 2000.
Photo credit: Photo via The Sentinel
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.
"I've come to know him well since then, as the other guys have," Peterson says. "Everyone is dealing with this in their own way. Some are just sitting, others are crying and some are working harder than usual to keep their minds occupied."
Justin Martin, WEFR assistant chief, says he's "thankful" he wasn't at the scene Monday.
"It's just a huge tragedy," Martin says. "I've known Keith since elementary school and I don't know anyone who disliked him. He was just a completely likable guy."
Martin says many WEFR volunteers are reminiscing to cope with the grief. Martin recalls Hess' "pride and joy" pickup truck that he rebuilt.
"I think it was a Chevy," Martin says. "I know you could hear it coming from a long way off."
Roy Dubbs, an uncle, says Hess intended to keep that truck forever, because it had belonged to his grandfather and had emotional value.
Dubbs, a brother to Hess' mother, Judy, says he knew the young man since he was a boy in diapers.
"He was just a basic good person," Dubbs says. "An easygoing, gentle giant. A big, strapping boy with never a bad word to say about anyone."
Dubbs says Hess was part of a close-knit family.
"Bob and Judy are very supportive parents and you couldn't find two closer kids than Keith and his sister, Chrissie," he says.
Denny Clopper, a WEFR fireman and an emergency dispatcher in Franklin County, says he talked with Hess and some of his friends at the Fannett-Metal station not long before Monday's 3 p.m. alarm.
"Stevie Sites was on the phone and I could hear Keith in the background," Clopper says. "They were giving me a hard time, disrespecting me in a fun way."
Shortly afterwards, Clopper dispatched Fannett-Metal to the Blairs Mills fire and was talking to Hess enroute to the call.
"The next thing I heard was that he was gone," Clopper says.
Hess was a 1998 graduate of Shippensburg Area Senior High School where he was "an A and B student," according to Principal Fred Shilling.
"He worked very hard academically," Shilling says. The principal also said Hess declared his interest in firefighting early in his high school years.
Hess joined WEFR as a junior member at the age of 14 and became the company's Rookie of the Year in 1997. He was named Firefighter of the Year in 2000.Directions:
All Emergency Services vehicles should report to the Shippensburg Area Senior High School, starting at 1100 to check in at the intersection of Eberly and Baker Russel Drive. Please arrive prior to 1300 so that proper arrangements can be made. Please limit apparatus in the line-of-march to one unit per department. Private autos will be directed to their parking at time of arrival.
Following the service, all Emergency Services personnel will be excused to return to their apparatus. Personnel are asked to form an "Honor Guard" with their apparatus and personnel, providing appropriate hand salute as the procession passes. At the end of the family procession, apparatus will be directed to join the procession. Individuals may elect to ride their apparatus or return to their personal vehicles for the procession. Apparatus will be staged prior to entry to the cemetery at direction of the local fire police.Keith Hess Memorial Fund
West End Fire and Rescue
49 Lurgan Avenue
Shippensburg, PA 17257