Pa. Firefighter Hit by Train, Killed During Search

March 23--A volunteer firefighter who was helping search for a missing woman was struck and killed by a train tonight in North Versailles, Allegheny County police said.

The firefighter, Edwin "Jeff" Wentzel, served with the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department in Westmoreland County for 35 years, said Youngwood fire Chief Lloyd Crago.

"I'm sorry for his family and the department," the chief said. "We suffered a great loss today out trying to do our job."

Mr. Wentzel, who was in his late 50s, was struck by a Norfolk Southern train at 5:46 p.m. near Elder Street under the Westinghouse Bridge.

Chief Crago said he was "not sure how it happened." Allegheny County homicide detectives are investigating.

About 10 people from the station were part of a search crew of volunteers and canines out again today looking for 55-year-old Ruth Mullennix, who was last seen Monday night in Wilmerding, authorities said. Her coat and cell phone were found Thursday in a rail yard beneath the bridge, according to KDKA-TV, the Post-Gazette's news partner.

Mr. Wentzel, who fellow firefighters knew as "Lance," was a dedicated community servant, Chief Crago said, adding he held various leadership positions at the station, including assistant chief.

Chief Crago said in 27 years he'd never seen a serious injury among Youngwood firefighters.

"An unbelievable accident happened here," he said.

Chief Crago said Mr. Wentzel is survived by his wife and four children.

Tonight, the search crew, Mr. Wentzel's family and fellow firefighters were meeting at the Westmoreland station, where the flag flew at half-staff.

Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc.

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