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48 years later, local veteran gets his Purple Heart

QUEENSBURY — Michael Cirino received a happy surprise on Friday — a Purple Heart 48 years after he was injured in the Vietnam War.

Cirino, a resident at the Brookdale assisted living facility in Queensbury, was pinned with the Purple Heart and three other service medals during a brief ceremony on Friday.

Cirino, 71, injured in his leg by stepping on a land mine in Vietnam in January 1969. He worked as a radio-telegraph operatorm, or “radio man” for short, in the U.S. Army.

Radio men were a target for the enemy because they were the main communications link to the rest of the troops, according to Andy DePalo, director of veterans services for Washington County.

“Their life expectancy on the battlefield was not long,” he said.

Cirino was injured about four months into his tour.

“It started as a hole this big and it ended up a little like that,” he said, holding his fingers close and then about a foot apart.

Cirino was transferred stateside to Massachusetts. After leaving the service, Cirino lived in Hudson Falls and spent 44 years at General Electric working with film, before retiring in May 2012 at the age of 65.

However, the paperwork for Cirino’s medals got lost in the shuffle. Cirino’s brother, John Cirino of Queensbury, persisted to get the medals that his brother was due.

“John was like a dog on this trail. He would not let it up,” DePalo said.

DePalo, who is a retired sergeant major and comes from a family of veterans, said it is good to have the support of family.

“He wanted to make sure his brother got what he deserved,” he said.

“I did what I had to do to help him out,” said John Cirino.

DePalo said U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, assisted in obtaining these medals.

Cirino also received the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and the Armed Forces Expedition Medal.

Michael Cirino said it was a nice surprise, on the day before Veterans Day, to receive these medals and to see family and friends who came to visit him for the ceremony.

He reflected on his time serving his country.

“I still miss a lot of my friends,” he said.


Local
UPDATED: Fire destroys home in Hudson Falls, two hurt

HUDSON FALLS — Two people were hurt early Friday when a wind-whipped fire tore through their home and gutted the structure.

The fire at 131 John St. was called in at about 4:10 a.m. The home was occupied by four people, who made it out without serious injuries.

The cause remained under investigation late Friday afternoon, the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control and State Police called in to assist Hudson Falls Police and Washington County fire investigators.

Hudson Falls Assistant Fire Chief John Santa Croce said a resident suffered smoke inhalation when he was rescuing a pet. Two others were transported to Glens Falls Hospital as well, but he said all had been treated and released as of 8:30 a.m.

He said it was unclear whether the home had smoke detectors, or what alerted the residents to the fire.

“The first call was for a working structure fire with possible entrapment,” Santa Croce said. “When we arrived, it was a fully involved structure fire. The residents had evacuated.”

Queensbury resident Vernon Gibbs identified the residents of the home as his sister, Stacey LaValley, brother-in-law, Brian LaValley, their daughter, Megan, and her friend, who had been living in the home with the LaValleys.

He said Brian LaValley suffered burns to his back and smoke inhalation as he escorted the family dog out of the burning home, and the friend who was staying with them suffered minor burns as well.

“They barely got out,” Gibbs said at the fire scene.

The LaValleys believed the fire appeared to start on or around a first-floor futon, Gibbs said.

He said the family has insurance, and plans to stay with relatives. But they lost everything, fleeing the home with just the clothes on their back, Gibbs added.

An online fund has been set up to aid the family, which can be found at www.gofundme.com/bxpyv-family-house-fire.

The initial fire response was hindered when a live power wire broke free from the house and landed on a Hudson Falls firetruck, disabling it until National Grid arrived to shut off the power. The truck did not appear damaged, Santa Croce said.

Hudson Falls Police Chief Randy Diamond said his officers were interviewing residents Friday morning and afternoon, but none seemed to have an idea how the fire started. County fire investigators could be seen working on the first floor into the early afternoon.

A state Bureau of Fire canine handler was on scene later Friday as well. The agency’s dogs are trained to check for possible accelerants, but Diamond said it had not been determined whether the fire was intentionally set as of late Friday afternoon.

“We are just trying to rule some things out,” Diamond said. “It had to start somehow. We just don’t know how yet.”

“With a fire of this magnitude, we wanted to call in all the resources we can,” Santa Croce said. “These guys are the expert.”

Neighbor Ross Cortese said his wife awoke to screaming, and then heard popping. Cortese, the village code enforcement officer, said he went outside to find all four residents out of the burning home and in front of it, a man leading a dog out the front door as the flames spread.

One woman seemed to have suffered smoke inhalation and was treated at the scene by an ambulance that arrived quickly, he said. The man apparently had some burns.

“The fire was really heavy, right inside the front door,” Cortese said. “It spread very fast.”

Vinyl siding on a neighboring house melted from the heat of the blaze.

High winds helped whip the fire and hindered firefighters, but it was reported as knocked down at about 5:30 a.m. Firefighters remained on the scene past 9 a.m. to mop up.

The building, which is between the Oak and Pender streets intersections, did not appear salvageable. The family had set up a large Halloween display on one side, and had also dealt with a fire in a backyard shed several weeks ago, neighbors said.

Santa Croce said the shed fire did not appear related to Friday’s fire, and had an accidental cause. Gibbs said it was related to Halloween decorations, as the residents set up a large display in their yard every year.

Hudson Falls firefighters received assistance from the Fort Edward, Kingsbury, South Glens Falls, South Queensbury, Hartford and Argyle fire departments.

A link to a video of the firefighting efforts can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf-yp1uUe6w&t=3s

The address was initially reported to the fire departments as 129 John St,, but police later said the home is at 131 John St.


Local
Parents criticize school board over human sexuality handout

CAMBRIDGE — A controversy over material on human sexuality that was introduced in health classes took up both public comment sessions at Thursday night’s meeting of the Cambridge Central School Board of Education.

Parents, grandparents, teachers and a CCS student spoke out.

The controversy started Oct. 30 when Jackie Hall, the school’s health teacher, had a speaker from the Pride Center of the Capital Region, an LGBT advocacy group, give a presentation on human sexuality to students in grades 7 and 10. The presentation included written material about sex, sexual orientation, gender and gender expression, and a glossary of terms related to those topics.

The seventh-graders and 10th-graders were supposed to receive different materials but both groups received the high school packet. Some parents were offended by the information given to the middle school students.

Hall was placed on administrative leave while the administration reviewed the situation. She returned to work Thursday.

Thursday’s school board meeting was the first since the incident. Speakers’ comments ranged from angry accusations that the school had allowed the theft of children’s innocence to criticism that the administration was failing to educate students about diversity and not protecting LGBT students.

At the beginning of the first public comment session, board president Neil Gifford read a statement that the subject matter and topics were “all in accordance with the New York state required state health curriculum.” He acknowledged “parents’ concerns that some material was not age-appropriate,” and cited measures to ensure that parents would know ahead of time what material was to be covered in the class.

Some parents were not satisfied. One man said he showed the material to gay friends and co-workers and said they told him it wasn’t appropriate for grade 7.

“I’m upset with 11-year-olds hearing what they did,” he said. “This was going too far.”

Megan Olson said the teacher failed in her responsibility to see that the material was age-appropriate. The packet “included 15 terms for sexual positions,” she said. “Kids don’t need to know the terms for gender reassignment surgery.”

Another woman who has grandchildren at the school said there was “no need for 11-year-olds to know the terms for changing what they were born with.”

“Our children are here in a protected environment from garbage,” she said.

Referring to a newscast on a Capital District TV channel, she added if Channel 6 thought the material was inappropriate to be read on the air, “how was it appropriate for kids?”

A father said his opposition had “nothing to do with gays, nothing to do with transgender,” but said the administration and board had failed in their responsibility.

“You let this into these young kids. You just stole the innocence of our kids,” he said.

Travis Kline, a teacher in another school district who lives in Cambridge, pointed out that sexual orientation and gender identity “aren’t choices.” He said he was disturbed by what he called a lack of leadership on the issue and was concerned by the message that was giving students.

“The school is often the first line of defense for these issues,” Kline said. “You’re responsible for educating all students. These (information) packets may be all these LGBT students have” to help them understand themselves.

Sarah McMillan, a CCS teacher, asked why the teacher’s choice of curriculum led to an administrative leave.

“That’s an administration failure, not a teacher failure,” she said. “People talking about ‘choosing this lifestyle’ and ‘garbage language’ tells me that more of this education has to be done, not less. Silence breeds hatred.”

Student Tyler Betit said he was in the first class to receive the material. “To say (the teacher) is stealing kids’ innocence is false. What I hear in the hallways makes these packets look like nothing. There’s nothing in the packets that a mature seventh-grader or high school student can’t handle. I’ve been bullied strictly because of my sexuality. I wish the board and parents could get this curriculum. No other student deserves to go through what I have to go through.”

Parent Linda Salzer said she could empathize with parents who were upset, “but I think what’s happened since is worse. There’s no reason to fire the teacher or persecute her. The students feel like they’re being attacked. Enough! We’ve had enough of this.”

Parent Matthew Patterson said the board had missed an opportunity to bring people together on a divisive topic.

“Let’s get both sides together and talk about it. We should have created a larger discussion,” Patterson said.

“The discussion doesn’t have to end tonight,” Gifford said.


Local
Golden Goal operator says more funding needed for sports tourism

The operator of Golden Goal Sports Park told local leaders this week that the region needs to put more money toward sports-related tourism to capitalize on the growing market.

Mark Shearer, a former soccer star who runs the sports center in Fort Ann, said the Lake George area is lagging behind other parts of the country in funding promotion to bring in sports-related business. He said families are increasingly packaging their family vacations with youth sports outings, adding on a few days in nearby destinations as they travel to tournaments.

Warren County can capitalize on more of this market, Shearer said.

“How can we work to bring more events here?” he asked. “To do that we need some help, we need some funding.”

Shearer told Warren County supervisors and local tourism leaders that he was discussing promotion of sports events at a recent conference with a promoter from the Poconos in Pennsylvania, who said his region spends $10 million on the industry, compared to Warren County’s $300,000 or so.

Disney recognized the trend years ago, adding sports fields to its amusement park and planning for a gymnasium complex to host sports like basketball, volleyball and cheerleading.

“In 1999, Disney was way ahead of the curve and realized sports was the future,” Shearer said.

Shearer’s remarks came as the Lake George Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau released its annual report for its convention and visitors bureau arm, which highlighted a number of sports-related events the organization’s leaders say they attracted to the region this year and for next year.

Among the confirmed new events for next year is a lacrosse tournament, and the bureau is pursuing at least 14 other new sports events, as well as Winter Special Olympics for 2021.

The chamber and bureau have created a promotional video, targeting sports events, and has been placing ads and contributing to articles on several sporting event-themed websites and magazines, such as Connect Sports and Sports Events.

In all, chamber Convention Services Director Kristin Hanifin said, the chamber booked 21 new events in 2017, which filled 6,120 hotel rooms and had an economic impact of nearly $1.8 million.