Thursday, November 23, 2017

Communities come together during hardships

My sister works in an assisted living facility and occasionally she talks about the monthly fire drills. The staff follows procedures and during an emergency it seems like they would have to move fast to safely evacuate all of the residents because some cannot walk on their own or depend on a wheelchair. It would be a difficult task, one that they hope they never have to find the hard way.

The Barclay Friends Senior Living Community residents and staff in West Chester experienced that last Thursday during what the media called an inferno after the fire rapidly ripped through the building and destroyed a majority of the building. Some of the exterior walls are standing and the roof is burnt off. As I watched the breaking news footage on TV, I hoped that everyone had gotten out because by that point the conditions were not survivable.

Photo by Daily Local News photographer Pete Bannan - A fire destroyed the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community on Thursday, Nov. 16. 

In developing stories, details are reported as they unfold and sometimes information changes. Initially they knew that there were more than 100 residents and staff members collectively inside the building when the fire broke out at about 10:45 p.m. last Thursday. They later announced that more than 140 residents and staff made it out and that four people who are unaccounted for are believed to be dead.

West Chester Police Chief Scott Bohn said it’s a “small miracle that we only have four people unaccounted for” while 133 residents and 15 staff were safely evacuated during the five-alarm blaze. The ATF later found the four victims in the rumble.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said he would have expected more grim news of up to 50 residents who perished but most were saved “mainly because of actions of the first responders” who had “minutes to get those residents to safety.”

People often credit firefighters with running toward danger as everyone else runs away. It’s something that the media members have in common with first-responders, but to serve a different purpose. When I saw a photograph of the media circus, taken by one of my firefighting friends, it reminded me of why I do both. As a journalist covering breaking news I feel like a bystander at times even though I go to emergency scenes in Chester County with a job to do, but reporting on the news led me to join the fire service back home to help others.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fire prevention skills can save lives

A young girl came up to me with her parents and handed me her drawing of a female firefighter. Her parents explained that she searched for a female firefighter during our fire prevention event because she wanted her to have that. At the time I was one of four, but the only female there that night. She was as excited to find me as I was to receive her drawing.

Firefighters pride themselves on appearance of their uniform and the fire apparatus, and we waive to children when we pass them on the street. We see how happy it makes them. I like seeing how amazed children look when they see a female firefighter in the group, but it shows them that girls do it too. It wasn’t until fire prevention events when I heard the reactions of girls pointing me out as a female firefighter that I understood that we can make an impact on someone by how we look, even before we even share a safety message.

Firefighters have the potential of greatly impacting students during fire prevention assemblies in October. It may seem simple to teach children to not play with matchers or lighters, but many will do it without understanding the dangers of it. We recently assisted at an apartment building fire that investigators said began when a child played with a lighter under a bed.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Remembering 9/11

My parents had told me that something would happen in my lifetime that I would always remember. My teachers told me and my seventh-grade classmates that we would remember where we were on September 11, 2001.

When I first started reporting on Patriot Day’s ceremonies, a reflection on the loss of nearly 3,000 lives, the high school students could remember that day. When I reported on an inaugural 9/11 flag raising ceremony at an elementary school, I saw the first through fifth grade students pause to honor people who died before they were born. The ceremonies are as somber as that day was.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Lisa's Roses

Being compassionate is not something that you learn in journalism school, but I think it’s a necessary trait in a journalist. I’ve interviewed more than a dozen families that have lost a child, and some interviews have been harder than others. After reading one of my stories about someone’s loss and how I highlighted the efforts by the family to bring good out of their tragedy, my late mother always said the same thing to me, “You’re not supposed to bury your child.”

In handing out a dozen free roses every August 23 as a way of healing from their pain, the DePedro family began telling parents who have lost a child that “it does get better.” One of my friends told me that at my mom’s funeral and coming from him, it was something that I needed to hear. It was hope that I could cling on to so I could know I’d find a way to move forward.

“The hardest thing we have to tell moms and dads is that it does get better,” Greg DePedro said. “You might not feel fantastic, but you will feel better with time and prayers.”

Dorrie and Greg DePedro, Coatesville Flower Shop owners, are often asked how they came up with the idea of “Lisa’s Roses” and they tell them her legacy is to “do something nice for someone today.” But they ask again how that started. I had to ask that loaded question too for the article.
“Then we take a walk back in time that often starts as a painful memory, but ends bringing joy to our hearts,” Greg DePedro said. His daughter Lisa died five months after she was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. 

“It was a very devastating time,” Greg DePedro said. “And then it began – the outpouring of love and support from the community.”

Friday, August 11, 2017

InstaNews: Living in a world of instant news

When I studied journalism in college, we learned about the origins of newspapers, radio news and TV news, which were developed respectively. Now we live in a world of knowing about news instantly because of cellphones. When I was recently on vacation, I heard via text alerts about some of the news happening nationally and locally in the five-county region of Philadelphia.

After I heard that Downingtown Area School District Superintendent Lawrence Mussoline designated a time for district employees to “turn off to tune in to your family” during Thanksgiving, I reported about it because it was unique feel-good story. At his request, all 1,500 district employees were disconnected from the district email server during their week break. Mussoline noted that time was designated to be spent focusing on family, rather than being connected to their email on their smart phones while in a social setting, for example.

“The good is that we live in an instantaneous world, constantly connected to information,” Mussoline said. “The bad is that we live in an instantaneous world, constantly connected to information.”

Mussoline welcomes digital technology, which the Chester County school district uses for educational purposes in its 16 schools.

“We all embrace technology and this instantaneous digital world in which we reside. In many ways it’s much better than in the past being forced to find out information well after the fact. The educational information at our fingertips today is 1,000 times better than at any other time in the history of mankind,” Mussoline said. “All we hope to accomplish with this initiative is to educate our DASD family to the concept of everything in moderation.”

Living in a world where we can hear about news instantly sometimes makes it seems like more bad things are happening more often. We went from hearing the news on TV at certain hours or reading about it in the local newspaper the next day to now seeing it first on social media or receiving text alerts. Someone told me that it had been a long time since they heard about breaking news on TV because they heard about it via news alerts on their cellphone.

When I'm in the field covering breaking news, I can still hear the voice of my late editor, Jim Callahan, telling me to "drop a dime" when I had information that we could disseminate on the newspaper website and social media accounts. He was an old school editor and newspaperman who spent his days in the field before cell phones and found a payphone to call his editor with the information he gathered. The reason why news articles are written with the most important information first is because of such phone calls and telegraphs. Reporters would pass along the most important details first in case the call was disconnected and because lengthy telegraphs were costly.

One day I wrote up a brief story on my cellphone and emailed it to Callahan to review and post online. I called him to let him know that and it gave him a chance to ask questions if needed as he edited my story. "Oh have times changed and developed, Dunbar," he said with a laugh before our conversation ended.


Daily Local News photographer Pete Bannan and multimedia journalist Ginger Rae Dunbar reported on a fire in Downingtown Borough. 
I even tweeted about the incident while on-scene. The best advice I heard from an AP writer about social media was not worry about being the first to put the news out there. Strive to be the first to get it right because the most important aspect of reporting is to be accurate.

Friday, July 28, 2017

UL and ISFSA research shaping the future of firefighting

I have been fortunate as a volunteer firefighter to watch the UL conduct live burns at the training center for research purposes and I recently reported on it for the local newspaper. 

The first time I saw it I was in fire school and by then we had watched a few videos of real building fires to learn about the various aspects of firefighting. Watching this live burn demonstration was a greater experience than watching the videos because we saw the dark smoke billow out of the building and we saw a backdraft up-close. I remember that part so well because even as the fire school instructors pointed out the changes in the smoke conditions and based on what we had learned, the timing and the reaction of the fire still surprised us when we saw it. Some of my classmates jumped at the noise.

“Read the smoke,” the instructors said to us. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Graduation advice: keep life advisors


When attending a high school or college graduation, you tend to hear some encouraging messages. Some are inspiring and it stays with you while others are easily forgotten because they sound like typical graduation speeches.

I thought it would be fun to play a fitness game with standard speeches – every time the speakers say “graduates,” you do 10 push-ups, every time they say “we did” or “we made it,” do 10 jumping jacks and every time they talk about the “next chapter of our lives” or about the “next era,” do 10 squats. You would get quite a workout at some of the graduations I have reported on, but not all graduations are that typical.

Some graduations even inspired me as the journalist and I hoped the graduates gained a positive impact from the message their classmates or administrators shared that day. I could relate to radio personality Kathy Romano, a 2000 West Chester University graduate speaking at my alma mater, about having an encouraging mentor in the newsroom. Romano, who is the traffic reporter and a newscaster at WMMR-FM, said she wanted to work behind the scenes in the industry but was encouraged to work on-air.