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Local
Downtown Reynoldsville
Building catches fire in downtown Reynoldsville: Structure likely a 'total loss,' says chief

REYNOLDSVILLE — Standing on the sidewalks, residents and passersby watched a smoky scene unfold on Main Street last Tuesday night. Before them, firefighters from several companies worked to ventilate a building that earlier had caught fire.

The two-story, four-apartment building was so damaged by the blaze that Reynoldsville Fire Department Chief Darren Scolese said it would likely be considered a total loss.

“There’s extensive damage to the rear apartment, heavy smoke damage to the front apartments, and water damage and smoke damage to the first floor apartments,” Scolese said.

Scolese said the fire was called in shortly before 5 p.m. Three people occupied the building when the fire started, but had exited by the time crews responded.

Upon arrival, Scolese said that flames were visible in the building’s rear corner, and smoke was billowing from the rest of it. No one was injured, he said, and no other buildings nearby were evacuated or damaged.

Firefighters went through the back of the building and made what Scolese called an “aggressive” attack on its front, where fire had traveled through the building’s voids.

It took about an hour to get the blaze under control, he said. Companies from Sykesville, DuBois, Sandy Township, Brookville, and McCalmont Township responded to the call.

Trucks lined Main Street, where traffic was redirected from 6th Street to 8th Street. A fire truck from Punxsutawney was on standby as well.

After extinguishing the flames, firefighters worked inside and on top of the building to ventilate it of smoke and extinguish any remaining embers, striking it apart with all manner of tools. Shortly before 7 p.m., very little smoke was seen wafting from the building.

The cause of the fire is undetermined, Scolese said.


Local
Local rural health centers begin falling off federal funding cliff

While Congress passed a short-term Continuing Resolution extending government funding through Jan. 19, that has not been enough support to keep some rural community health centers fully afloat.

Less than one year ago, the doors opened to the Fox Township Dental Center. The facility marked the first time in 50 years that a dental practice had a presence in the small, rural community. Once open four days per week, it’s now open three.

“Without the certainty of funding past two months we have begun to put our contingency plan in place,” said Kristie Bennardi, CEO of the Keystone Rural Health Consortia, which has a budget of just over $3 million.

There are approximately 292 community health centers across the state.

The consortia currently has four medical facilities in Fox Township, Emporium, Ridgway, and Snow Shoe, and dental centers in Emporium, Johnsonburg and Fox Township. It is looking to open a new dental site in Kane in February.

As a non-profit running federally qualified health centers, the mission of the Consortia is to serve the underserved and to serve all, regardless of their ability to pay. Forty-three percent of its patients are Medicaid.

From Bennardi’s perspective, its community health centers have seen significant demand in recent years to now provide care to over 4,000 patients with our 45 employees.

“I have cut two positions, we will not fill three vacant positions, and we have gone from a 40 hour work week to 37.5. In addition we had to decrease office hours at two of our dental sites,” Bennardi said.

While the short-term funding bill allocated $550 million specifically for Community Health Centers, as well as limited funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), these funds represent the minimum amount necessary to maintain current services long enough for Congress to revisit this issue in January.

Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, who voted in favor of the continuing resolution told the Courier-Express, “Prior to being elected to Congress, I spent nearly 30 years in non-profit healthcare, serving those with life changing diseases and disabilities. I have always been a strong supporter of community health centers, which provide underserved and rural areas much needed access to quality primary care. I remain confident an agreement will be reached to extend the program and will continue to advocate for such as we finalize federal spending for Fiscal Year 2018.”

Despite several members of Congress giving their vote of confidence, Bennardi said the future remains rocky and the consortia continues to wait and see.

“Even if they end up giving us our funding at the same level, we face this same funding cliff in October 2019,” Bennardi said. “This means that all of the changes we put in place now we will have to keep to try to build up reserves.”


Katie Weidenboerner / TCS File Photo 

Elk County Commissioner Matt Quesenberry gets a quick look over by dental assistant Ashley Simbeck, left, and Dr. Suzanne Maslo during a ribbon cutting last year at a Keystone Rural Health Consortia dental clinic. 


Photo by Chris Wechtenhiser 

20180110-ce-sp Smith-Eckert loose ball (copy)

DuBois’ Maddie Smith, left, and St. Marys’ Lauren Eckert, right, battle for a loose ball Tuesday night. Smith scored four points in the Lady Beavers’ 57-45 victory. Eckert had five points for the Lady Dutch.


Crime
DuBois man pleads guilty to Reynoldsville auto repair shop arson

REYNOLDSVILLE — A DuBois man pleaded guilty Monday to torching his Jefferson County auto repair shop in 2016 with the hopes of cashing in on the insurance payment.

John Lechiara, 52, of DuBois, pleaded guilty to arson, reckless burning or exploding, and insurance fraud charges in Jefferson County Court and was sentenced to serve 1 1/2 to 3 years in a state prison, followed by five years of probation.

He has been jailed since March, in lieu of posting $100,000 cash bail.

According to court records, the Reynoldsville Fire Department responded to Bowtie Auto on 5 N. Fifth St., where Lechiara ran an auto repair shop, after a passerby called in the alarm around 8:46 p.m. May 11, 2016.

During his testimony Fire Chief Darrin Scolese said when the department arrived smoke was coming from all four sides of the building and it hung heavy in the streets of downtown.

According to past Courier-Express articles, the fire called for a second alarm which brought units from Sykesville, Fourth and Fifth Wards in DuBois and West Sandy Fire Co. tankers in Falls Creek. McCalmont, Sykesville and Knox Township responded to provide extra water.

Approximately 65 firefighters battled the blaze, which was contained within 40 minutes.

The building was unoccupied at the time of the fire, and there were no injuries. Damage was estimated at more than $100,000.

Once extinguished, a state police fire marshal was called to investigate. He determined the fire had started in a small crawl space located in the subfloor of the garage where shop rags had been ignited.

Lechiara had two insurance policies on the building at the time of the fire.

One had been cancelled earlier that day but was still valid until midnight.

Another had been opened several weeks before the fire at a higher rate of insurance coverage and using untrue information about the business’ operations (including how much the business made annually, improvements that had been made, and about its day-to-day operations).


Katie Weidenboerner / Submitted  

Lechiara