By Annette Christie
Area firefighters spend Thanksgiving holiday working
In the line of duty, Tri-City firefighters found themselves answering several calls over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Area wide there were seven structure fires in addition to other calls for service.
Thanksgiving morning, firefighters responded to the old Ford dealership in Hartford. All individuals inside the building were able to get out of the structure. Major damage occurred.
A fire alarm at Cobblestone Apartments was followed by a maliciously set fire at Park Place apartments in Watervliet Township. Substantial damage occurred in at least two of the apartments. That building is vacant.
North Berrien Fire Rescue, with support by Watervliet Fire Department responded to an attic fire at a residence. Considerable damage occurred in that structure fire.
Watervliet firefighters responded to two separate oven/stove fires, one of Harlan Dr. and one on Verlynda. Most of the damage occurred in the stove area.
In addition, Watervliet Fire was called out for mutual aid to Hartford Fire for an apartment complex. They were told to disregard while they were in route. Luckily everyone, residents and firefighters were uninjured in the incidents involved.
Watervliet Fire Chief Dan Jones commented that the weekend was a very busy one. “The guys put forth a great effort and the community of Watervliet can be assured that their fire department is working hard,” Jones said. Jones also noted that having operating smoke detectors in the residences improved the outcome of these instances.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Association, home cooking fires happen most often on Thanksgiving than any other time. Statistically, unattended cooking is by far the leading factor in home cooking fires with two-thirds of home cooking fires starting when food or other cooking materials catch fire. Ranges account for the largest share, with ovens accounting for about 16%.
Community raises funds for safety equipment in response to Courthouse shootings
On Wednesday, November 30, a press conference was held to announce the results of efforts by the community to improve safety for our police officers.
The community came together to show support for the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department in raising $52,546 for the purpose of purchasing needed safety equipment for its officers.
The fundraising effort began as a response to the July 11, 2016 shootings at the Berrien County Courthouse that ended in the deaths of two Berrien County Court Security Officers and left one Sheriff’s Deputy wounded. The community was stunned and wanted to do something to make it better.
Following a meeting with Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey where department needs were discussed, the Berrien Community Foundation issued a $5,000 challenge grant to the community to help fund the purchase of plate carrier bullet proof vests, level III security holsters, and weapon mounted flashlights. The funds raised will fully cover the costs of the equipment.
“This community is so generous,” said Berrien Community Foundation President Lisa Cripps-Downey. “People gave in so many ways. The gives ranged from $5 to $6,000. People sent in not just checks, but letters of condolence to the Sheriff’s Office and thank you notes for what they do for Berrien County.”
A community run hosted by the SWMI Racers raised over $6,000 for the cause. Restaurants hosted give back nights and high school students from the Interact Clubs at St. Joseph and Lake Michigan Catholic sold ice cream bars to raise dollars. The Upton Foundation made a $5,000 grant to the effort and corporations kicked in as well. LECO Corporation, Whirlpool Corporation and Michiana Land Services each made significant donations of $5,000 or more.
“We are just overwhelmed with the generosity,” said Sheriff Bailey. “We lost two great men who were also our close friends when we lost Court Security Officers Joe Zangaro and Ron Kienzle,” adding, “We want to protect our officers and do what we can to make sure a tragedy like this never happens again.”
An inmate in the Berrien County Courthouse for a court hearing on July 11 was able to remove a gun from a Berrien County Sheriff’s Deputy. In the inmate’s attempt to break free from custody, he shot Zangaro and Kienzle with the deputy’s weapon. The inmate was eventually shot and killed by other Court Security Officers after attempting to take visitors and employees in the Courthouse hostage. One of the female hostages was shot in the process of shooting the inmate.