Monday, December 18, 2017

Parents encouraged to talk to children about school threats

As my friends talked about our upcoming ten-year high school reunion, I heard radio hosts encouraging parents to talk to their children about what to do if they encounter an active-shooter in their school. The hosts expanded that conversation to include shootings at churches, in movie theaters, at concerts, during a road rage incident – scenarios that have become real life scenarios.

Times seem different than when I was in school not long ago. I don’t think my classmates and I felt that it could become a reality in our school district because we live in a safe area. But I’m sure that’s how other students and parents felt before gunfire interrupted a peaceful school day that forever changed the students and the history of the school.

I recall three bomb scares during my years of education including one during my freshman year at West Chester University. I don’t even recall being evacuated during the first bomb scare when I was in middle school and bomb sniffing canines checked the school after a handwritten letter was found claiming a bomb was in the school. The second time occurred in high school and K-9 units searched the building before the school day began. We all had to enter through the gym where metal detectors were set-up with police officers overseeing it. The search was so thorough they even searched my brown paper bag lunch.

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.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Make fitness “me time”

Physical fitness becomes a part of who you are because of your efforts and the mindset you overcome to reach your goals. You battle your mind when it tells your body to stop and you have to tell yourself to push through to keep going and not quit.

“Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done,” firefighter fitness groups say.

I apply that statement to my daily hour-long high intensity workouts because if I can push my mind to keep going when instead I could easily stop to take a break, then I can push myself to keep going when it counts.

That’s why I apply that concept to the fire service, in training and on the fire ground. The protective gear and SCBA that firefighters wear are heavy and adds a strain onto your body. It’s important to train in full protective gear to practice like you play. This is helpful to build up your stamina because of the extra weight added and because the design of the gear traps in your body heat. One of the killers of firefighters is from overexertion. Sudden cardiac death continues to be the leading cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The best statement I heard about exercising is to be selfish about your about physical fitness. That time in the gym can become your “me time.”

Friday, May 12, 2017

“Remarkable feat of heroism”

I don’t think I ever thought that I would go into a burning building until I considered a new journey to become a volunteer firefighter. When faced with that situation, I think people would go in to help someone. 

Sometimes people begin a conversation with me about firefighting when they notice I’m wearing a fire company T-shirt. Many of them give me credit for what we do as firefighters. Many often say they could never go into a burning building. Most also say that they wouldn’t want to do it. I understand that people have their reasons why they would not want to become a firefighter, just like we have our reasons why we do it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Under the airmask: a firefighter is a firefighter

I was a little nervous about joining the fire service because it is a predominantly male field. I had wondered if the guys would be accepting of me as a young female.

When I applied to my local fire company I wanted to know if other female firefighters served there. While it wasn’t the most important question I wanted to ask, it meant something to me. Before I had a chance to ask, the membership director told me the good news: one active member and one away at college. Two more females joined after me. I went through fire school with one of them, and we both earned our Firefighter I national certification.

In addition, two other female firefighters were in our class. On the first day in fire school, one of the instructors lectured about the history of the fire service and its diversity of members. Instructor Andrew Hunger said that it’s not about what you look like, what your gender is or who you pray to, it’s about performing the job. As a female Christian firefighter, I greatly appreciated that he felt like that. It was encouraging to hear someone prominent say that to my class of 40 students.

“Everyone is the same under their airmask,” Hunger said.

Instructor Joseph Lombardo Jr. agreed and said that male or female, career or volunteer, a firefighter is a firefighter.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The knock on your door

Before GPS became available on our cellphones, I have knocked on someone’s door for directions. Thankfully people have answered, assisted me and I went on my way. As a reporter, I write about the times that some sort of evil comes knocking on the door and they help themselves to whatever they want.

In one day I worked on two stories about home invasion robberies. They seem to be occurring more and more in the greater Philadelphia region. I postponed the stories I began earlier that day to review police reports and make phone calls before talking to neighbors.

After I knocked on a handful of doors, I realized that the resident may be nervous about answering their door. Days before the home invasion, they probably would have thought an unfamiliar face at their door was seeking donations or trying to sell something. But now, maybe they were worried about my intentions outside their door. Once they unlocked the door and I identified myself as a reporter, they seemed more trusting. Some came outside and talked to me, or talked with the outer door separating us. They are still cautious about their safety, just as reporters are apprehensive about their own safety.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Valentine’s Day – "what do you think of?"

I’ve asked questions as a reporter that I didn’t realize would trigger emotions. It’s happened to me too. When my friend found out that I was no longer in a relationship, she asked what I had thought about with Valentines.

Maybe the timing of what had been weighing on my mind had caused such an honest response. Or maybe it was the way she phrased that question – “what do you think of?”

The words hit me like a tidal wave. “What do you think of?” I knew what my friend meant by asking, but she did not suspect that I would answer her the way I did.

“I think of how it was the last mother-daughter date I had three years ago. I treated her to a ham and cheese sandwich with tomato. It was the last time I made her a promise. She passed away two weeks later,” I recalled to my friend. “I think about the story I reported on about two siblings that were killed by a drunk driver that night two years ago. They traveled home with their family from a band competition they participated in. I think of how nothing would be the same again for them after first-responders were dispatched at 6:55 p.m. Saturday. I remember that it snowed that day, but the police said the inclement weather was not a factor in the crash. I think of how I long for the days when Valentine’s Day meant that I could eat more chocolate than I normally did in one day.”

When I talked to one of my fellow firefighters about it, he told me about similar experiences. He said he can remember specific details from incidents that occurred years ago, but he can’t remember something more recent and less significant.

“It still amazes me the details I remember from calls like that, but I can’t remember what I ate for lunch,” the firefighter said. “Those little details are what keep us going. Stay strong, Ginger.”

Journalists have those same experiences, but we can’t remember if we even ate lunch that day. Some people may think that reporters are too busy to express emotions because we are on to the next story. Well sometimes that’s true, and other times we are dealing with our emotions in our own way.

One of my mentoring editors had supported me after the loss of my mom in 2014. He checked on me every time I had to write an emotional story, especially death-related stories. A year later he died of cancer. I found myself at an all-time low. If it wasn’t for the support of family, friends, co-workers and my faith in God, I don’t know how I would have gotten through it. I didn’t think I could ever truly be happy again, but I have been.

But being a journalist made the grieving process tough. I wrote a story to honor the memories of the two siblings – Miles and Charlotte Hannagan from the Downingtown area – who were killed by a drunk driver. I interviewed their teachers and friends. My deadline fell on the one-year anniversary of my mother passing. That was the hardest thing I had to do as a reporter. But I didn’t think as much about my loss, as I thought about their parents. Knowing how difficult it was for me to lose a loved one, I wanted to put my heart into every story I had to do about someone else’s loss. 

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - Paul and Maggie Hannagan hold a photograph of their children, Charlotte and Miles, who were killed by a drunk driver on Valentine's Day in 2015 in the Downingtown area. 
Before I knew how much emotional pain a loved one’s death could bring, I met the Iwaniec family during a DUI victim impact speech held for DUI offenders. Trooper Kenton Iwaniec was killed by a drunk driver in 2008.
“It is hard to comprehend how much emotional pain a person can stand,” The Iwaniec family stated on their website in honor of Trooper Iwaniec. “Just when we think we couldn’t possibly miss him any more, a new day comes and the pain created from the loss of Kenton is greater than the day before.”

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar - Ken and Debby Iwaniec hold a picture of their son, Trooper Kenton Iwaniec. He was killed by a drunk driver in 2008 in Chester County. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

WCU and Fame Fire Company working together for the future

West Chester became my second home when I attended college with the goal of becoming a journalist. When I accepted my second newspaper job at the Daily Local News, based in West Chester, I professionally reported in my backyard again.

I worked for the student-run newspaper at West Chester University since the start of my first semester and worked until the last edition was published in my final semester. I began reporting on my alma mater with my first article about graduation, a year after mine. Most recently, I drove through the campus to get to an assignment where my two passions collided.

West Chester University representatives presented a $50,000 donation to the Fame Fire Company toward its capital project. This donation, made to Fame’s $2.5-million capital campaign, will be used to expand the engine bay to provide more space to properly house its apparatus. West Chester Borough had provided the aerial truck to Fame because of its close proximity to the West Chester University campus which has several dorms and apartments on campus.

Photo by Pete Bannan, Daily Local News - West Chester University officials present a $50,000 donation to Fame Fire Company on Feb. 2, 2017. The funds will go toward Fame's $2.5 million capital campaign. Holding the check (left to right) are: Fame campaign co-chair Bill Ronayne,University President Chris Fiorentino, West Chester Borough Manager Mike Cotter and Fame Fire Company President Don Powers. 

I remember seeing the fire trucks arrive nearby the dorms a few times when smoke alarms were tripped. It seemed like it was always burnt food, usually popcorn. That’s not surprising for a college environment.

There are 12 WCU students who are Fame firefighters and one professor. I met Fame Lt. Martin Helmke at the check presentation and heard someone make a comment about his career. When he mentioned that he works at the university, adjacent from the firehouse, he added that it’s a good school. I agreed with him and told him I graduated from there in 2012. He congratulated me for having a job in the field I studied and said, “See, it’s a good school.” He was among the few members that I interviewed about the donation and the capital campaign.

“I’m really proud to be a part of the West Chester University community and see that,” Helmke told me as he pointed at the check.

As I wrote that down, I smiled and told him, “I’m proud too.”

I’m proud of firefighters, even if I don’t know them. It’s because of the decision they made to serve. I had learned about Fame Fire Company No. 3 over the past few years, after covering parades. Fame has 52 active members, all who have firefighter one national certification. The West Chester Fire Department – which includes First West Chester and Good Will – require that members are certified. That impressed me a few years ago when I learned what that meant. But after going through fire school and earning that certification, I understood how much work it took to achieve that. The “firefighter one” program involves more than 200 hours of lectures and training.

I didn’t want to be a firefighter when I was in college, but some days I wish I had. Live-in programs, such as the one Fame has in agreement with the university, is becoming a recruitment tool. Part of the campaign project is to build a live-in space, for men and women. When completed, students who are Fame firefighters will have a single room and the rest of the crew will stay in a bunk room. Currently if the members spend the night during a snowstorm, they sleep on mattresses on the ground in the station banquet hall. At my station we only do that when an overflow from the bunk room is needed for a sleeping area in our training room.

Fame’s expansion will also safely house its apparatus, as well as two trailers full of rescue equipment. The engine bay was just as crowded as they described, with four pieces of apparatus parked closely together with gear racks positioned in between.

I have seen old photos of my one-story station. Compared to the two-story station we have now with a training room, fitness room, bunk room, showers and more space to house apparatus, I thought of my fellow firefighters when they talk about the changes. It makes us appreciate what we have, even though it’s all some of us have known.

Friday, January 27, 2017

We know what it’s like too: the passing of editors

In my last blog I wrote about how the death of firefighter or police officer changes the atmosphere of the station. This same sentiment occurs in a newsroom with the death of a colleague. I didn’t expect to again know how it felt so soon.

Daily Local News reporter Ginger Rae Dunbar and editor Jim Callahan pose together in the newsroom in 2014.  Staff photo by Vinny Tennis. 
I first experienced it when my mentoring editor Jim Callahan died on April 28, 2015 of cancer. Most recently, the Daily Local News team experienced it on Monday when we learned that Editor-in-Chief Tom Murray died of a heart attack on Jan. 21, 2017.

In a newsroom where most of the constant chatter is from the fire and police scanner, these two editors were known as the talkers. Despite how busy they were, they stopped by your desk or waited for you to go to theirs to say hello and hold a conversation. Most of the time it was work-related, specifically about your story assignments and how you are doing with them. Other times it was about your weekend and how you spent the holidays.

I felt honored that Tom described me as a reliable reporter, and he knew Callahan taught me well. The passion we all shared for journalism is what we bonded over. Somehow the newsroom managed to carry on and still put together a newspaper in the days that followed the loss of these “go-to” editors nearly two years apart.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Law Enforcement Appreciation Day

The Patriots Club at a Downingtown school typically honors veterans, and most recently, the students hosted a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. Pennsylvania State Police and police from the Downingtown area told the students about their passion for their jobs and keeping people safe.

Lionville Middle School students wrote thank-you notes to the Downingtown area police officers who visited their school during Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. 

During the nationally recognized event held on Monday, Principal Jonathan Ross told his middle school students the Chester County staff was impacted on a personal level by a line of duty death in Montgomery County. 

Ross said that Lynsay Fox worked as a substitute teacher at Lionville Middle School, of the Downingtown Area School District, when her husband Plymouth Township Officer Bradley Fox was fatality shot in the line of duty in 2012. A law was established in Fox’s name for the minimum sentences for “straw purchasers” who buy a gun for someone who cannot legally buy a gun because of their criminal record.

“It’s a terrible thing,” Ross said about the line of duty deaths. “Unfortunately it occurs all too frequently in our country.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Focus on your fitness in the New Year

I avoided the gym in college when people showed up  in January in an effort to achieve their New Year resolutions. Instead I would run on campus or do workouts at home. While the overcrowding in the gym became a reason to change the location of where I worked out, it also helped me to change up my routine. Instead I would run on campus or do various arm, abs and leg workouts at home.

I always enjoyed working out, but I didn’t always stick to a workout routine. You don’t have to wait for the New Year to begin to start focusing on your health and fitness.

Exercising in college for me was a healthy stress-reliever and it helped me to stay fit. When I joined the fire service, I became motivated to improve my fitness because of the physical demands. The heavy equipment and gear helped me with that motivation and desire. I agree with firefighters who say fitness should be a priority.

My company is blessed to have a gym in our station with 24.7 access. Providing that opportunity to members encourages fitness. I created a workout schedule to align with the times I would be at the station or after fire school. Following lecture nights during fire school I exercised at the firehouse gym. There were days that I counted the physical training skills at the Delaware County Training Emergency Services Center as my exercise for the day. My fitness goals came from personal drive and from advice.