Our View | Waupelani fire generates new list of local heroes

July 7, 2013 

On Thursday afternoon, local heroes were honored for their service to community and country.

That night, heroism was on full display, as police and firefighters confronted a three-alarm apartment fire on Waupelani Drive and disaster volunteers worked to help the displaced find places to stay after the tragedy.

The Fourth of July brought many stirring examples of what makes Centre County great, especially the remarkable response to the fire that destroyed a 19-unit apartment building and displaced 40 people.

Many of the fire companies that responded to the blaze at Waupelani Heights apartments had barely gotten back to their home communities after the day’s 4th Fest Parade of Heroes, which celebrated military personnel and veterans, police and fire departments, emergency responders, nonprofit organizations and 14 individuals from various backgrounds.

The fire started even as thousands were settling in at Beaver Stadium for the annual 4th Fest fireworks show. The smoke from Waupelani Drive could be seen for miles — even at the stadium.

More than a dozen fire companies responded, including a ladder-truck unit from Lewistown. They battled the flames deep into the night, while racing to confirm that all of the residents were safe.

Late Thursday night, volunteers with the American Red Cross disaster services gathered the displaced to attend to their needs, including finding places for them to stay. Many of them are Penn State graduate students, and were helped with temporary lodging from the university.

State College police blocked off local streets and kept onlookers at a safe distance.

Romayne Naylor, of the American Red Cross Centre Communities Chapter, praised the work of all involved in keeping a major loss of property from becoming something even worse.

“It was phenomenal to walk onto the scene and have years upon years of experience responding standing right there,” Naylor said. “The leadership there had years and years and years of experience.

“It was wonderful to put our heads together to find the best course of action to give people the best resources.”

Earlier in the day, two Red Cross volunteers — Donnie Dyke and Charles Poust — were among 14 honorees in the Parade of Heroes.

They were joined by a dozen other outstanding local people, including a young man just back from service in Afghanistan and two soldiers who had been severely wounded in combat.

Spc. John Buchan, of State College, returned earlier this year from a tour of duty as a fire support specialist in the war against terror.

Sgt. Adam Hartswick, of Pine Grove Mills, and Sgt. Vincent Reynolds, of Bellefonte, both suffered serious injuries in Afghanistan and are recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

The parade honored EMTs, police, rescue units and fire departments — just hours before they were back in action at Waupelani Heights.

Before the parade, Patrick Knobloch, of the organizing committee, called the 14 honorees “people you look up to, people you would want to be more like.”

He said the biggest challenge when recruiting people to be recognized in the Parade of Heroes is convincing them they deserve the honor.

That humility was reflected by Hartswick’s insistence that the real heroes were the soldiers still fighting, and those who never made it home at all.

“The toughest part of the whole thing is getting the heroes to accept it,” Knobloch said. “Heroes by nature are humble.”

After the display of dedication Thursday night at that frightening fire on Waupelani Drive, we think the 4th Fest heroes committee may be off to a good start in finding people to honor in 2014.

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