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WPAL DuBois extends free memberships to all first responders, military personnel

First responders and military personnel are used to taking care of others. WPAL Fitness Center in DuBois believes it is time to take care of them.

The Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League (WPAL), located at 37 East Long Ave., has just announced free membership will be offered all first responders and all military personnel — active and veterans, according to Executive Director Aaron Beatty.

All of the listed service men and women, along with all law enforcement and first responders, will will be offered a 100 percent free membership to the 7,000 square foot fitness center.

“We definitely have a strong admiration and appreciation for our first responders, being somebody that went through a house fire with my family about 10 years ago,” said Beatty. “The firefighters were just amazing in taking care of us and our possessions. That was a new appreciation right away with them.”

“So, for us to give back a little bit, I think, makes all the difference in the world. Those folks are working long hours for low pay. So by offering a 24-hour, seven-day a week membership at zero cost, hopefully we can help them to achieve their health goals and just be in a better position overall,” said Beatty.

“All of those jobs take a lot of physical ability and effort that you have to put forth to make it happen,” continued Beatty. “If we can get them stronger, more flexible, and healthier, I think it’s only going to help them improve in their job.”

Opening its doors in October of 2015, Beatty said the fitness center has always offered free memberships to everyone between the ages of 6 and 18 and anyone currently attending high school. The WPAL also encourages local law enforcement officials to work out in its gyms, free of charge, with the children from the area.

WPAL’s motto is “Always for the Kids,” and it encourages all service men and women to work out in its gyms with the children from the area, said Beatty, noting that this helps to build relationships and strengthen the community.

“We have more than 750 youth members,” said Beatty. “Our paid membership is really limited, it’s probably less than 100 members on a regular basis.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Snyder of the Air Force National Guard, who is also chairman of the WPAL and volunteers in the after-school programs, said “staying physically fit is a hallmark for anyone serving their community in order to complete their mission. Thank you to WPAL for helping us help others.”

Offering free membership to fire service personnel allows members to have access to fitness equipment 24 hours a day so they can be as fit as possible, said former DuBois Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Ben Blakley, noting that this is essential for firefighters to be proficient at their jobs.

“Cardiopulmonary events are the biggest killer of firefighters in the U.S. and if we can get the guys and girls in our department in the gym working out and getting fit, it will not only help us on the ground to do our jobs to the best of our ability, it will also help to assure that we can go home safe to our families,” said Blakley. “Being in the fire service for over 22 years, I can attest to the demands it puts on our bodies. I have been heavily involved in fitness for the last 10 years and although I am now in my 40s, I am in better shape now than when I was 18, and I owe it, in large part, to the WPAL, where I have continued on my physical fitness journey.”

Thor Lehman, senior paramedic at the Ridgway Ambulance Service, said it was great news to hear that the WPAL would be offering a free membership to firefighters and EMS workers.

“Physical fitness is just as important as mental fitness in our line of work,” said Lehman. “And for somewhere to offer free membership is a great way for us to take advantage of becoming more physically fit.”

There are no administrative costs with the WPAL, everything is done with volunteers, said Beatty, noting that “it’s a labor of love” for him and treasurer Heather Rooker.

Community support from event fundraising has been the key to making the fitness center a success.

“We put on the Golden Glove events every year,” said Beatty. “That pretty much covers our overhead for the whole year. We raised $13,000 with Golden Gloves this year. So we’re about $1,500 a month to operate this first floor. That’s almost the whole year right there taken care of.”

The WPAL Fitness Center is equipped with cardio equipment including treadmills, ellipticals, water rower, stair climber, and a recumbent bicycle, as well as an array of weight machines, benches, free weights, and more.

“Additionally, there is an impressive lineup of group fitness classes offered in the facility,” said Beatty, adding that all members receive discounts on all classes, personal training sessions, and apparel.

Classes available include, but are not limited, to: Boxfit, boxing 101, yoga, self-defense, core, Hiit, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts.

Anyone interested in learning more may call 814-299-7640 or email for more details.

Local artist, BCAT instructor donates 'Little Free Library' to Jeff Tech

REYNOLDSVILLE — A green and yellow-colored cabinet full of books has been placed in front of Jeff Tech (Jefferson County Vocational Technical School) to inspire a love of reading, book exchange and inspiration.

The “Little Free Library” stand was a gift from another local tech school — the Brockway Center for Arts and Technology.

Claira Heitzenrater, youth and arts coordinator at BCAT, said the library was one of two annual community art projects there.

“Each year, the center provides the academic community with two separate projects that can be utilized for learning, growth and inspiration,” she said.

The Little Free Library was installed April 5, as a “take one, leave one” way to inspire reading and give a book to a student who needs one.

The free library project started in late spring of 2018, she adds.

“Jeff Tech is an amazing school with really wonderful kids that benefit greatly from our programming,” Heitzenrater said. “As a ‘thank you’ for their continued support throughout the years, we chose the school as the landing place for this library.”

Heitzenrater, originally from Punxsutawney, has been painting for about 10 years, and has a master of fine arts in painting from Edinboro University, and a bachelor of fine arts in studio arts from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She’s been published in several magazines and catalogs.

She personally donated several books from her own collection, Heitzenrater said. A Jeff Tech staff member also donated books.

“I am an avid reader, and think that classic literature is imperitive to teach the development of young minds,” she said. “These books are able to transport students to a different time and place, and can teach them a lot about culture, different time periods, and ultimately, themselves.”

Heitzenrater said both of her parents are 1986 Jeff Tech alumni, so she is very proud of the school.

“I have a lot of admiration and respect for the students at Jeff Tech, and want to provide them with as many resources as I’m able to,” she said.

Jyingling / Abby Drey/TNS 

Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens (2) in the end zone with one of his three touchdown runs against Maryland at Maryland Stadium in College Park, Md., in Nov. 2017.

Storm Watchers-Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center holds Skywarn training with National Weather Service Pittsburgh

PUNXSUTAWNEY — National Weather Service meteorologist Jared Rackley, stressed the importance last week of weather spotters, calling them the first line of defense when severe weather threatens.

Rackley’s came during the training of area residents training to become weather spotters through the Skywarn program at the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center.

Rackley said the NWS needs everyday people to be weather spotters to enhance the accuracy of the warnings issued and spotters help verify reports received. He said the United States averages 650 severe weather related deaths and sustains $15 billion in losses. He said the NWS is the sole entity that issues severe weather warnings in the United States for the public.

“What we do does impact the economy in the U.S. The National Weather Service plus you equals a credible warning. Without you, we can’t do this. You are the ground truth,” Rackley said.

He said if a tornado is spotted on radar, a tornado warning is issued. The warning is then upgraded to a confirmed tornado warning when the NWS receives a spotter report and their media partners can spread that information. He said while radar technology has improved in recent years, the NWS can’t see everything on the radar, which makes local weather spotters imperative. He said the radar beam spreads higher the further away it travels, which means the NWS can’t see what is happening on the ground at a distance from the radar. The beam also gets wider the further from the radar, which hurts resolution.

He said spotters are needed after the fact to verify the warnings sent out and to analyze the lead time of the warning

“We want to know how we are doing so we can do better,” Rackley said.

Rackley explained the differences between a severe weather watch and a severe weather warning and gave examples of the criteria needed for a warning to be issued. He said that a severe weather watch means all the ingredients for severe weather are present and a warning means the weather event is already under way.

He said individuals should seek safety if a severe weather warning is issued.

Rackley said a severe thunderstorm warning is issued when the NWS receives reports of wind that exceeds 58 miles per hour and hail that is greater than one inch in diameter. A tornado warning is issued when Doppler radar indicates a tornado or a weather spotter confirms that a tornado has touched down in an area. A flash flood warning is issued when six inches or more water flowing over a roadway is reported.

Rackley said good weather spotters are well versed in safety and preparedness when reporting storms, where to get weather information before and during the weather event, know how to identify features of an event and know how to accurately convey what they are seeing to the NWS. He advised spotters not to attempt to go out in the middle of a severe weather event to make a report and to always be safe.

“Don’t put yourself in harm’s way. You can wait until after the storm to send us a report,” Rackley said.

He said safety after the weather event is important as well, warning that spotters should avoid fallen power lines and debris from the storm.

Rackley stressed the importance of the NWS’s T.E.L system for weather reporting, which stands for Time, Event and Location. Rackley said spotters need to report what time they saw the event, the exact event details and where the event occurred. For severe thunderstorm winds, spotters should report winds that are 58 mph or higher, downed power lines or trees and any structural damage. For tornados and funnel clouds, report any observed rotation in the clouds, damage on the ground, the direction the cloud or tornado is moving and how long has the tornado been on the ground. Hail size and damage should be reported. For significant flooding, report closed or impassable roads and any water entering homes. Reports can sent to the unlisted weather spotter number at 800-242-0510, to, or to the NWS Pittsburgh’s Facebook and Twitter.

Rackley spoke of some of the features and hazards associated with thunderstorms, saying a thunderstorm needs three prerequisites to occur: moisture to form clouds, a lifting mechanism to lift the moisture up and instability in the atmosphere. He said wind shear is needed to form severe thunderstorms. He said wind shear allows the updraft to tilt, which results in stronger thunderstorms and allows for rotation. He said supercell thunderstorms are the most dangerous form of thunderstorms as they produce unusually large hail and tornados. He said super cells are responsible for the EF 2 and 3 tornados.

He said hail is formed when rain droplets are sucked into the storm and crystalize when they spend time below the freezing level. They continue to grow larger until the updraft cannot contain them.

“The stronger your thunderstorm is, the bigger hail you have,” Rackley said.

Flash flooding occurs when heavy rain from thunderstorms is localized. Rackley said flash flood warnings are issued when an inch to up to three inches are expected in a matter of hours. He said flash flooding is a bigger problem in urban areas as they are susceptible to landslides and other damages. Rural areas are safer during a flash flood because the terrain allows the water to travel rather than collect. Some threats for flash floods include landslides and washed out roads. Tornados were the final large threat that could occur during a storm. He said a tornado is a violently rotating column of air that must be in contact with the ground.

For more information on how to be a weather spotter, visit