The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 29, 2013

Upper Yoder officer pulls man from burning home

JOHNSTOWN — A police sergeant rescued a man from his burning home Monday in Upper Yoder Township, authorities said.

A malfunctioning wood burner is being blamed for an early morning blaze that destroyed a home in the 500 block of Swank Street.

Township police Sgt. Jeffrey Berkebile rescued the hearing-impaired occupant of the home that caught fire at 5:40 a.m., police Chief Walter Howell said.

“He kicked the door in and found him in the living room,” Howell said. “He escorted him from the home and communicated through writing.”

John Cernetich, a neighbor, said that Joe Varmecky is hearing impaired, cannot speak and is blind in one eye. Cernetich said he took Varmecky to stay with friends, but that emergency personnel were the real heroes.

“The local police officer, or whoever it was, on his rounds, saw the flames or smoke or something like that,” Cernetich said.

“The first responders literally had to knock in the back door to get him out.”

Neighbors said that Varmecky has lived alone in the home for years.

Cernetich said that Varmecky wasn’t harmed, noting that he had “10 fingers, 10 toes, (but is) cold. It’s a shame.”

Firefighters from Upper Yoder, Southmont, Franklin, Westmont, Westwood, Johnstown and Lower Yoder responded to the call.

Dan Conway, the Upper Yoder Township assistant fire chief, said the fire is being ruled accidental. A malfunctioning wood burner is believed to have caused the blaze but a state police fire marshal will investigate, he said.

The home was about 75 percent involved by the time firefighters arrived on scene, Conway said. Crews battled the blaze for about an hour and 45 minutes before getting it under control. The home, a total loss, is believed to have been insured, Conway said.

Howell said Berkebile might well have saved the man’s life.

“For as bad as the fire was, he should be commended,” Howell said.

Tribune-Democrat reporter Kelly Urban contributed to this report.


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