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Pa. volunteers find satisfaction in supporting, caring for first responders

Cambria County Box 11 was formed in January as a rehab unit providing food, water, tents, heaters, fans and clothing


Cambria County Box 11/Facebook

By Patrick Buchnowski
The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — First responders spend long hours at house fires, highway crashes, drownings, chemical spills and other emergencies. They endure freezing temperatures, heat and humidity, hunger and thirst.

A volunteer organization called Cambria County Box 11 is there to help.

Formed in January, the team of more than 15 volunteer roll in with a rehab and support vehicle providing first responders with food, water, tents, heaters, fans and clothing.

The need for support staff is critical, Box 11 Chief Jim McCann said.

“In this day and age there’s been a drastic decline in first responders,” he said. “They’re being taxed more than ever, working harder, working longer.”

The team was in Johnstown on June 10 when a 10-year-old boy drowned in the Stonycreek River, in Ebensburg on June 18 when two people were killed after a small plane crashed on U.S. Route 22 not far from the airport, and in Carrolltown on June 19 when a 43-year-old man drowned in a pond near his home.

“We need to get as close to the scene as possible,” McCann said. “We can’t be miles away.

“We meet the officer in charge to find out what they need,” he said. “Tents, cooling, heating. It’s all incident-specific.”

James Boring, public safety specialist for Cambria County Emergency Management, said it was a team effort to get Box 11 up and running.

That included Cambria County Emergency Management and the Cambria County Regional Firefighters Association.

Many of the volunteers have a background in emergency service.

Lianna Weir grew up in Franklin Borough and is a third-generation firefighter. Her father, Jeff Weir, is deputy chief of Box 11 and is fire chief of Franklin Borough.

Weir jumped at the chance to be a part of Box 11.

“I want in on this,” she said.

“This is something I’ve done most of my life.”

Weir, a special events coordinator at St. Francis University in Loretto, said she is ready for the call at any time.

“The incident at the river, I actually was bowling,” she said. “This is something I welcome, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Valerie Price said many of her family members are first responders. Both her husband and daughter are in the fire service. Fire, police and EMS let nothing stand between them and the safety of the community.

“I see how they all put their lives on the line,” she said.

“They stop what they are doing and go to save people who are strangers.”

Box 11 was in Jackson Township on June 5 when a truck overturned on U.S. Route 22 near Blue Spruce Road, spilling drums of liquid gas, closing the four-lane highway and forcing emergency officials to order a precautionary one-mile evacuation.

A county HAZMAT team was dispatched along with at least five fire companies.

“They were getting into those hot suits and not staying hydrated and they were hungry because the call went out around dinner time,” Price said.

“We were giving them socks because their feet were getting soaked from getting hosed off, and giving them shirts to change into on scene. They were just selfless.”

No injuries were reported and 30 hours later, the road was reopened.

She is happy to be a member of Box 11.

“I want to do my part in keeping them hydrated, giving them shelter on a hot or cold day,” Price said.

Box 11 is funded through donations.

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