Hundreds pay respects to fallen Youngwood fireman
Edwin Jeffrey “Lance” Wentzel triumphed over a tough jigsaw puzzle on Saturday.
“I am invincible,” Wentzel proudly proclaimed to his wife, according to a message she wrote that was read during the Youngwood firefighter's funeral Thursday.
When Judith Wentzel went to check out her husband's handiwork, the puzzle already had been taken apart.
“He was a proud and humble man who never wanted thanked for his efforts,” she said in the message read by firefighter John Storey Sr.
Hours later, Wentzel, 57, was struck and killed by a train while searching for a missing woman in North Versailles with his fellow firefighters. The woman still has not been found.
Hundreds of firefighters, paramedics, family, friends and community members honored his sacrifice on Thursday, many arriving in firetrucks and ambulances for his funeral at Westmoreland County Community College near Youngwood.
“They would do it if the shoe was on the other foot,” said Beaver Falls fireman Pat Moore.
Escorted by bagpipers wearing kilts, at 11:21 a.m., Wentzel's casket was wheeled into the Science Center, where at least 700 people and members of Youngwood's K-9 search team quietly remembered a kind, dedicated man.
“Jeff was a good man, and he did much good quietly,” said the Rev. Robert Ross Jr., Wentzel's nephew. “I think he'd be a little embarrassed if he was here today.”
Wentzel, a 35-year veteran of the department, was part of a search team Saturday looking for Ann Mullennix, 55, of Wilmerding, when he apparently became confused by whistles sounding from two trains traveling in opposite directions.
Condolences and donations have poured in from across the country and Canada. The Youngwood department's 70 members want to use the donations to put up a memorial.
Firefighters from Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Indiana, Washington and Westmoreland counties turned out to support the department and its fallen member.
“It's a sad day for the fire service,” said Chief Earl “Buzz” Kline of Kittanning Hose Company 4, who with fellow firefighters traveled about 75 minutes to attend.
Former Pitcairn fire Chief Henry Farally expressed sorrow for the Youngwood firefighters.
“Any time that whistle goes off, you may not come home,” Farally said. “It means a lot when you lose someone, especially in the line of duty.”
Hundreds of firefighters stood at attention outside and saluted Wentzel's casket as it was lifted into a hearse after the service. A long procession of dozens of firetrucks and ambulances left campus, driving underneath an arch made by ladder trucks and a large American flag.
Fire trucks and ambulances with their lights flashing, some bedecked with black bunting, followed the hearse to the cemetery.
“The fire service is a brotherhood,” said Chief Scot Graham of Marguerite fire department in Unity. “We stand beside each other, we support each other. That could be any one of us.”
Two medical helicopters flew from the college toward Westmoreland County Memorial Park, where Wentzel was buried. Businesses along the route posted condolences on their signs, and about 50 firefighters saluted as the hearse passed through South Greensburg on Route 119.
Wentzel, who worked at Scott Electric in Southwest Greensburg for 35 years, is survived by his wife, two sons and two stepsons.
Lt. Artie Osniak drove about an hour from South Butler Station 7 to honor his former comrade. Osniak said he was previously a firefighter with Scottdale and a dispatcher with Westmoreland 911.
“It's a brotherhood when somebody dies,” Osniak said. “Even if I didn't know him, it's the right thing to do.”
Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or email@example.com.