Heidelberg firefighter fights blaze at his home

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A fire that damaged a First Street home in Heidelberg last Thursday morning and left three generations of a family homeless hit close to home for volunteer firefighters in the borough.

The blaze, in which no one was injured, destroyed the home of volunteer firefighter Jason Adkins.

Mr. Adkins, an active member of the Heidelberg Volunteer Fire Department for seven years, his wife, two sons, his father and his grandmother lost all possessions, except for a few family photographs and mementos, said Joe Wissel Jr., chief of the Heidelberg VFD. The family dogs also escaped.

The Adkins family is staying in a hotel, and Chief Wissel said "it's been unbelievable" the response by local firefighters and residents who have stepped up with donations of household goods and money to help the family. Businesses have responded to the call for help, too.

Guardian Storage has donated a unit for the family to store donations of household goods until they can find a new place to live in Heidelberg.

Dean M. Beattie, a professional photographer who is a friend of Mr. Adkins, is selling photographs from his gallery with the proceeds to benefit the family.

"Jason grew up in Heidelberg, and the family wants to find a new residence in the borough, but a stumbling block is the limited amount of available housing stock in the borough," Chief Wissel said.

Along with household goods, such as furniture and kitchen utensils, the family needs to replace sports equipment for the two boys -- Easton, 6, and Jason Jr., 8.

"The boys were very active, always outside playing hockey, soccer or basketball, so donations of any type of sporting equipment is appreciated," he said.

Mr. Adkins responded to the fire call at his own home, and Chief Wissel said he was instrumental in helping firefighters find their way through doors and along hallways in the three-story, 4,200-square-foot-building that for many years housed the Aleski Tavern.

"The fire started on the second floor. The third floor and attic space suffered a lot of damage," the chief said.

A space heater is being looked at as a possible cause of the fire.

Fire crews from East Carnegie, Kirwan Heights, Presto, Bower Hill, Glendale, Carnegie and Dormont also responded.

"It's amazing how firefighters from the other departments have stepped up to help the family after the fire," Chief Wissel said.

He said Heidelberg has about 1,200 residents, so the 54 members of the fire department make up almost 6 percent of the entire community.

The volunteers see their role as going beyond the traditional role of fighting fires, to helping the town with fundraisers and recreational activities such as the annual Oktoberfest and Movies in the Park on Friday nights in the summer, the chief said.

For last year's Oktoberfest, the fire department helped direct traffic and sponsored the fireworks. "We want to be there for the community," the chief said.

Donations for the family can be dropped off at the Heidelberg Volunteer Fire Department, 456 First Street, Attn: Firefighter Adkins Relief Fund.


Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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