Tuesday, March 26, 2019

When one of us gets hurt

You don’t often hear the name of an injured firefighter when reporting on that story, but by including their name it humanizes what happened. I believe that’s true for the reader as well as the writer. I had heard that a Delaware firefighter had been injured in a house fire, and I planned to read about it when I finished another story I had been working on. But by that time, I received an email from my co-worker saying that the injured career firefighter is also a volunteer firefighter in Chester County.

For some reason that’s when it hit me and it was hard for me to follow up on this story. The whole time I searched for information, made phone calls and wrote the story, I had a knot in my stomach. I don’t know Dave Smiley personally, and while I have reported on firefighters getting injured during an incident, this felt different. I had even reported on firefighters I know who sustained an injury, but maybe this one was harder because it was the first story like this since Matthew LeTourneau died in the line of duty. Or maybe it hit closer to home because he has ties volunteering near where I live and work.

After I submitted my news story, I began talking to a few firefighters about it. One of them told me that when we say that we care when one of us gets hurt or killed, if we truly care, then he said it should affect us in some way. It made me realize it was normal to feel the way I did.

Some firefighters reached out to me when they saw I was on the story, and they told me about their experiences with Dave.

Friday, March 8, 2019

A legacy law for those lost to an impaired driver

The same day that Governor Tom Wolf signed DUI legislation into law, the snowfall seemed eerily familiar. As I picked up my cellphone to call a Downingtown family in attendance of the bill signing in Harrisburg, I wondered if they dreaded driving home in the snow.

Maggie and Paul Hannagan lost their two children, Charlotte and Miles, to a drunk driver on a snowy day, but police said the snowfall wasn’t a factor in the crash. Maggie and Paul were injured in the crash, but the impaired 25-year-old driver did not need so much as a Band-Aid, as they phrased it in an interview a year after the crash.

He did not have a criminal record before that day when he was arrested for his first DUI offense and two counts of vehicular homicide. A mom who lost her son to a drunk driver told a group of first-time offenders that she knows it wasn’t the first time they drove drunk, rather it was the first time they got caught. According to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), people have driven impaired more than 80 times before their first arrest.

Gov. Wolf signed DUI legislation into law. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

The gift of a Christmas experience

The best gift you could give someone doesn’t come from a store, but rather from an experience or tradition that may otherwise be discontinued. That was the lesson Coatesville Area Senior Center Executive Director Bill Pierce shared with me for my holiday story.

One of the volunteers at Coatesville recently lost her husband and she was also recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. She said the one thing she had wished that she had done after her husband passed away was to continue the traditions they did together around the holidays.

Pierce said the woman explained that it was emotionally difficult for her at the time to continue those traditions on her own. They always went to get a live Christmas tree, but after he died, she bought a pre-cut tree from a local store. As time went on, things also become more physically difficult for her to do things on her own. Now she decorates her home with a ceramic tree, rather than getting a tree to decorate with lights and ornaments.

“You know the ceramic trees, I’m talking about right? Your mom probably made them when you were growing up.”

I had to laugh because he was right. My mom painted ceramic decorations for every holiday, but she especially loved Christmas. In past years, hearing something like that may have been a reminder of my mom’s passing, but with time, those reminders of her are what make a lasting legacy. 
Pictured is Santa's workshop, made of ceramics painted by Ginger Rae Dunbar's mother. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

More than a Thanksgiving meal

The annual West Chester Area Senior Center Community Thanksgiving dinner provides more than a free meal to those who seek company with family and new friends.

I offered to work the Thanksgiving holiday when I found out about the community event, run by volunteers. The event organizers started cooking about 20 to 30 donated turkeys at 4 a.m. to serve the meal complete with all of the sides you would expect at a Thanksgiving dinner. The event offers fellowship in addition to a turkey dinner. When I arrived and introduced myself as a reporter, the event organizers welcomed me to talk to the volunteers and guests about their experience.

Event organizer Angel Connelly encouraged the volunteer servers to converse with the guests because she said “that’s more important than the food.” She added that is what late event founder Herb Balian believed.

“Make people feel at home,” Connelly said to volunteers. “That’s what it’s all about – family, community and fellowship.”

I didn’t realize at first that my role as a newspaper reporter could provide fellowship by interviewing volunteers and guests. My journalism professor told us that interviews should be more like a conversation than a Q&A. When I talked to people about why they decided to volunteer on Thanksgiving Day or why they attended the dinner, many of them also asked about my life. They wanted to know how I knew I wanted to be a reporter, where I went to college and about my career path. We talked as if we had known each other before that event. I heard a reporter share advice that she wished she had opened up earlier in her career to her interviewees when she could relate to them. It’s why I engage in such conversations.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Living on as a hero forever: Captain LeTourneau Memorial Scholarship

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said that it is suiting for a “sister in the Philadelphia Fire Department” to receive the Captain Matthew LeTourneau Memorial Scholarship to Delaware County Community College, and I agree. The student, Philadelphia Fire Department EMT Bethany DeLoach, who is in the college’s paramedic program, is the first recipient of the scholarship, created in honor of the fallen firefighter.

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - John Moss presented the Wong Moss Outstanding Alumni Award, which was bestowed on the LeToureau family in honor of the late Philadelphia Fire Captain Matthew LeTourneau, a 1995 graduate of Delaware County Community College. Pictured from left to right are: Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel, President Dr. L. Joy Gates Black, brother Luke LeTourneau, sister Michelle LeTourneau, mother Janice LeTourneau and John Moss. The  LeTourneau family then presented Captain Matthew LeTourneau scholarship to a DCCC student. 

She applied for the scholarship named for the first Philadelphia line-of-duty death during her career. It was a first for me, too.

When she talked about seeing thousands of first-responders paying their respects at LeTourneau’s funeral, I could visually recall it myself, as I was among the firefighters in uniform standing at attention outside the Cathedral where his services were held.

She recalled the rainy day and the slight chill in the air, but it wasn’t cold for January. It was “perfect golfing weather,” as Matt’s golfing buddies and fellow firefighters described it.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Taking a shot at making a difference

I’ve seen the differences that police officers make in someone’s life by such simple acts.

The missions of community policing events like “Coffee with a Cop” and “Basketball Cop Foundation” are to create positive interactions between law enforcement officers and community members. These opportunities can also present themselves during a response.

One night while investigating a drug crime, Coatesville police officers noticed a group of kids playing basketball at a net in disrepair. They wanted to replace the net and the officers contacted the Basketball Cop Foundation which donated a new portable basketball net a week later. 

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - Coatesville police Sgt. Ollis speaks to the crowd about the new basketball net, donated by the Basketball Cop Foundation. 

It seemed symbolic that the basketball net required some assembly and the officers volunteered their time to set it up.

“It was put together by guys who have your back,” Coatesville police Sgt. Rodger Ollis told the crowd that gathered to see the net unveiled on a hot afternoon.

The officers distributed basketballs donated by the foundation, and the kids lined up to practice their free-throws.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Junior camps benefit junior firefighters

Some days, for many reasons, I wish I had joined my fire company when I was young enough to be a junior member. Maybe it’s an ironic thought because many junior members can’t wait until they turn 18. In their minds they believe they would be able to do more. They say that because at that age they can train to become interior firefighters.

It’s common for firefighters to join the fire company following in the footsteps of their father, or maybe a brother, while others like me, literally walk in off the street and apply. Some people grow up around the firehouse and start to learn about the equipment and the tactics from a young age. I have interviewed several firefighters who describe growing up in the fire service by riding along in the command vehicle with their relative, who was the fire chief.

I recently reported on the week-long Junior Public Safety Camp, which was held at the Chester County Emergency Services Training Center. The junior members operate a hose line and they learn about the equipment. These camps are a great resource because the young firefighters can gain more knowledge about how to use water appliances and other equipment on their apparatus. It’s also a chance to learn what other companies carry.

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - Twin Valley firefighter Michaela Brooks, 17, operates the hoseline as instructor Dennis Gallagher oversees at the Junior Public Safety Camp held at the Chester County Emergency Services Training Center.