Hero laid to rest

January 27, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

Keith R. Hess did what many firefighters struggled to accomplish - he found a balance between family and his job, fellow firefighter Mark Cleck said.

Inside Shippensburg Area Senior High School's auditorium Saturday, in front of Hess' casket, his two families sat in mourning.

In the front row were his parents, Robert L. and Judy D. Hess; his sister, Chrissy Hoover; his grandparents and other loved ones.

Behind them, in row after row, dressed in formal uniform, were more than 1,000 firefighters, emergency medical technicians, police and other emergency services personnel from the Tri-State area and beyond.


To Hess' immediate family, Cleck said, "Remember you will always be part of the family at West End Fire and Rescue."

Hess, 22, of 9897 Possum Hollow Road, died last Monday night after a chimney and second floor collapsed on him in a Blairs Mills, Pa., home. Hess was inside putting out hot spots.

Hess was working with Fannett-Metal Fire and Ambulance Company 12 on the call in neighboring Huntingdon County, Pa. Hess was a paid emergency medical technician and firefighter with Fannett Metal. He was a volunteer firefighter and lieutenant of Shippensburg's West End Fire and Rescue Company 15.

Outside the auditorium stood a picture of Hess, holding his turnout coat over his left shoulder while leaning on the front bumper of a Shippensburg Squad 15 firetruck.

Inside the auditorium lay his casket, draped with the U.S. flag and his helmets from Company 15 and Company 12.

Later, the helmets and his West End turnout gear accompanied Hess' casket atop a West End firetruck to Spring Hill Cemetery. His Fannett-Metal turnout gear hung from the back of a Company 12 firetruck.

Cleck said he joined the West End fire company shortly after Hess and they worked their way up the ranks together, first as junior firefighters and then as officers.

Hess was given a nickname - Bubble Gum, or Bubba for short, Cleck said.

"He loved it. It was his badge of acceptance in the fire service."

"We never said good bye. It was always, 'See you on the big one,'" Cleck said.

Cleck and Darwin Goshorn, with Company 12, said Hess was dedicated to his job and would help anyone in need.

"He was paid for what he would do for free," Goshorn said.

Goshorn described Hess as quiet, but enthusiastic. Hess became everyone's friend and found anyone fair game for a joke that would bring humor to what is often a serious business, Goshorn said.

Hess' older sister, Chrissy, tried to hold back sobs as she read a statement describing her brother as a "gentle giant."

"As a family, when you saw one Hess, you saw four," she said. "The love that my brother and I felt was truly amazing. Our parents gave us the love one could only dream of."

Pastor Jim Bolich said Hess was a hero because he made a difficult choice at a critical moment without regard for personal cost, as many firefighters do.

"He gave the full measure of valor. He gave his life," Bolich said.

"Many of you gathered today have made critical choices without regard for personal cost many times in the past and will many times in the future," Bolich said. "As you do, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, spouses, children, neighbors and friends will pray for your safety.

"You will go because you, too, are heroes. You will answer the call because that's the hero's choice," Bolich said.

The auditorium and its balcony were packed with mourners as a large U.S. flag graced the back of the stage. Three bagpipers, including one from the Waynesboro, Pa., Honor Guard, escorted Hess' casket into the auditorium.

A closed-circuit feed in the gymnasium was provided because the auditorium wasn't big enough to accommodate the crowd.

The U.S. flag out front flew at half-staff and emergency personnel wore black stripes across their badges. Firetrucks adorned with black bunting moved slowly with their lights on as they lined up for the funeral procession.

Firefighters came from Pennsylvania companies including Franklin Fire Co., Letterkenny Fire Department, McConnellsburg, Mechanicsburg, Needmore, South Mountain, Huntingdon County, Bedford, St. Thomas Township, Waynesboro and State College, and from Boonsboro and Hagerstown in Maryland.

They also came from Carlisle, Pa.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Alexandria, Va.; Washington, D.C.; Frederick County, Md.; Prince George's County, Md.; Montgomery County, Md.; and Keyser, W.Va., among others.

The procession of more than 100 emergency vehicles and dozens of private vehicles was to drive by West End Fire and Rescue Co.

Cleck said he believed Hess' spirit would stay with West End's firefighters.

"I believe God needed a guardian angel for the West End fire department. I believe God chose the best," Cleck said.

"I'm going to miss you, Bubba, as a fellow firefighter and a friend. I'll see you on the big one," Cleck said.

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