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'Fire and Ice' video recalls 1963 St. Vincent College blaze

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Earl G. Dalton (left), retired chief of Latrobe Volunteer Fire Department and Ed Hutchinson, fire chief of the City of Greensburg, share a moment after being awarded the St. Vincent College Presidential Medal of Honor for their involvement at the scene of the St. Vincent fire on January 28th, 1963 during a 50th anniversary ceremony at the Fred M. Rogers Center at the college on Monday, January 28, 2013. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Greensburg fire Chief Edward 'Hutch' Hutchinson shows his delight while accepting a Presidential Medal of Honor from St. Vincent College on Monday. The college honored the chief and Earl G. Dalton, the retired chief of the Latrobe Volunteer Fire Department, for their efforts while fighting a fire in on Jan. 28, 1963, that almost leveled the campus near Latrobe. Brian Henry|Tribune Review
Ice covers the salvaged bell from the tower destroyed in a massive fire on Jan. 28, 1963, on the Saint Vincent College campus near Latrobe.
Flames shoot from the center of the Saint Vincent College campus near Latrobe on Jan. 28, 1963. The massive fire destroyed five buildings and severely damaged two others, taking out the heart of the campus.
Ice covers the bell that wasn't destroyed in a massive fire on Jan. 28, 1963, as investigators examine the charred ruins of the Saint Vincent College building that held the bell tower
Flames consume the bell tower at the center of the Saint Vincent College campus near Latrobe on Jan. 28, 1963.

Through scratchy, 50-year-old film footage, firefighters spray water onto black smoke billowing from leaping flames trying to consume St. Vincent College.

The silent 9 12-minute reel is the centerpiece for what became an award-winning film, “Fire and Ice,” produced by St. Vincent to commemorate the Jan. 28, 1963, fire that engulfed five buildings and severely damaged two others, said David Safin, director of multimedia services at the college.

“We built this narrative around this footage,” he said of the 15-minute documentary retelling the story of the blaze that started in the biology building during near-record low temperatures.

The flames caused $3 million in damage and destroyed some science collections , but there were no major injuries.

Thirty fire departments fought the blaze, including Latrobe, led by Chief Earl Dalton, and Greensburg Chief Edward Hutchinson. The latter is featured in the DVD commemorating the 50th anniversary of the fire.

The video, which won a bronze Telly Award, was a “team effort,” said Kim Metzgar, director of archabbey and seminary public relations.

The marketing awards, given to submissions judged against standards for excellence, are not easy to come by, said Safin, who edited the film and did voice-over work.

“The Telly Awards, in my experience, have been the ones that are hardest to win,” he said.

He submitted “Fire and Ice” in the history category.

Safin worked with St. Vincent historian Jerome Oetgen, who wrote the script with his brother, Al Oetgen, who has broadcast experience with NBC News.

Of the dozen or so videos Safin has submitted for Telly Awards, given since 1978, this is the only one that came away a winner, he said.

“I was really pleased,” he said, calling the story of the fire and the rebuilding of the campus “a legacy video.”

“It was really special for me to get to make it,” Safin said.

Work on the film took place between August and November 2012. It was shown at a dinner in January to commemorate the 50th anniversary.

Safin said he has produced 300 to 400 videos, many for the college website, but has received the most positive feedback for this film.

“Fire and Ice” not only uses the archival footage and photos to explain the blaze, but also contrasts the devastation felt that night with the sense of pride that comes from how the college has developed since, Metzgar said.

“It's a story of rebirth and regrowth,” she said.

Safin agreed, saying the video is meant to honor firefighters who dealt with extreme conditions to help save St. Vincent and the efforts since then to establish a vision for the college.

“It's not about that moment. It's about what we did after it,” he said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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