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Ceremony welcomes new fire truck

Hastings firefighters welcomed a new fire vehicle into the station with a traditional pushing in ceremony on Wednesday at Lincoln Park Station.

Capt. Darin Clark said firefighters honor many traditions in their service to the community, including painting fire engines red and tolling the bells for firefighter funerals.

“Fire service is full of traditions,” he said.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Fire Chief Brad Starling rides in Brush 2 as it is pushed inside the Lincoln Park Fire Station during the Hastings Fire and Rescue pushing in ceremony for the new vehicle Wednesday.

Hastings Fire and Rescue’s newest apparatus is Brush 2, a 2019 Dodge Ram with four-wheel drive, a 160-gallon water tank, a water pump with Class A firefighting foam capabilities, equipment for fighting wildland fires and advanced life support medical equipment for its role as a paramedic intercept vehicle to assist neighboring departments with critical patients being transported.

Clark invited the public to participate in the ceremony, beginning with hosing and drying off the vehicle.

He said this recalls a time when a new fire horse would be given a bath to welcome the new and retire the old. Along with the rest of the truck, particular attention was paid to the tires.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Brush 2, the newest Hastings Fire and Rescue apparatus, is pushed inside the Lincoln Park Fire Station during a pushing in ceremony Wednesday.

Clark said washing the tires harkens back to the hub and spoke era where washing the wooden wheels kept them from drying out after a fire along with cleaning out the horse-drawn wagon before pulling into the station.

“Firefighters had to wash down the wheels to keep them from cracking,” he said.

Next, firefighter Jarred Hackler filled the tank as a symbol of giving Brush 2 the tools needed to perform its new responsibility to protect life and property.

Once the tank was filled, firefighters and members of the public helped push the vehicle into the station.

“Since horses coiuld not easily push equipment into the stations after a call, firefighters had to push the apparatus back in,” Clark said. “Today, we continue to celebrate this tradition with the help of a driver in the seat and the engine’s transmission in reverse.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Hastings Fire and Rescue captain Darin Clark talks about the tradition of the housing ceremony Wednesday at Lincoln Park Fire Station.

Inside the station, Clark explained that local clergy historically would bestow blessings upon a horse for long life, strength, good health and to ward off any evil spirits.

Eddie Goff, who serves chaplain for the fire and police departments and as pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, offered a prayer of protection over the vehicle and the firefighters using it.

With the prayer complete, Clark reported to Chief Brad Starling that the equipment had been mounted, the tank filled and firefighters trained for its use.

Starling then radioed in to dispatch to declare Brush 2 in service.

Clark said the pushing in ceremony helps the public and new recruits better understand the department.

“I think it’s important for the newer people coming in to understand the history of fire service,” he said.

Brush 2 is the first fire vehicle to display the department’s new logo, which will be unveiled in a transition over the upcoming year.

The vehicle cost about $77,000 with around $10,000 of new equipment and about $30,000 in repurposed gear. Starling said the expense was included in the budget last year and approved by the Hastings City Council.

Hackler, a member of the apparatus committee, said it took the five members of the committee about six to eight months to research and order the best vehicle with the capabilities desired. It will replace a 2002 Ford Explorer that had been used as a chase vehicle by the department, but didn’t offer any firefighting capabilities.

Starling said inviting the public to the ceremony and offering an open house helps foster goodwill in the community.

“It may not be necessary, but it’s important to us as a department to give the public an opportunity to come out and see how their tax dollars are spent,” he said.

Pair of local teams boost softball attendance

Fans from across the state filled the stands at the Bill Smith Softball Complex Wednesday for Day 1 of the state high school softball tournament, bolstered by local supporters cheering on a pair of Hastings teams.

This was the first year that the city of Hastings has hosted the state softball tournament with two local teams competing — Hastings High qualifying for the No. 5 seed in Class B and St. Cecilia claiming the No. 3 seed in Class C.

Dan Masters, Nebraska School Activities Association assistant director and softball tournament director, said the pair of hometown teams brought a lot more spectators to the stands.

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St. Cecilia students cheer for the Hawkettes before their opening round game of the Class C state softball tournament Oct. 17 at Smith Softball Complex.

“St. Cecilia filled a whole side of bleachers,” he said. “Their student section was a lot louder than maybe other years where there isn’t a hometown team. It’s certainly nice having both St. Cecilia and Hastings in the same tournament. It brought a few more people into the stadium and probably made it a bit more fun for the schools to play in front of.”

Troy Baker is the Hastings College softball coach and has helped with the tournament for as long as it’s been in Hastings.

“The crowds are bigger,” he said. “I think it’s nice when you have local teams make it. I think more people that maybe wouldn’t come out, came out just to see what Hastings softball is all about.”

Baker said the turnout for the tournament has increased over the years and having two local teams make repeat appearances would keep that momentum going.

“Hastings High has been a stalwart year in and year out,” he said. “Now hopefully St. Cecilia can become one and get here year in and year out.”

Hastings High has qualified for the Class B tourney five consecutive years.

Jena Cerveny of Hastings said it was the third time her daughter, Hastings High junior Sophie Cerveny, has made it to the state tournament.

“Everybody knows it was going to be a tougher road to get here, but the fact that they’re here this year and they’re doing it, we couldn’t be more proud,” she said. “We have lots of good close family friends from St. Cecilia, so having them play here right after us was really special. We got to cheer them on.”

St. Cecilia is in its second year with a softball program, missing the state contest by one game last year.

Bob Luther, grandfather of St. Cecilia sophomore Bailey Kissinger and senior Natalie Kissinger, was impressed by the team’s effort to make it to the tournament this year.

“I think it was pretty good for only being the second year playing softball,” he said. “Natalie being a senior makes it more special this year.”

Luther said the Smith Softball Complex is the best place to play the game in Nebraska and is the perfect location for a state tournament.

“It’s great to be in the middle of the state so people don’t have to travel across the whole state,” he said.

Natalie Kissinger said it was a great feeling to have the stands packed with spectators cheering them on.

“Our whole school was here practically,” she said. “We loved that.”

Study: 'Medicare for All' not only way to universal coverage

WASHINGTON — Health care memo to Democrats: There’s more than one way to get to coverage for all.

A study out Wednesday finds that an approach similar to the plan from former Vice President Joe Biden can deliver about the same level of coverage as the government-run ”Medicare for All” plan from presidential rival Bernie Sanders.

The study from the Commonwealth Fund and the Urban Institute think tanks concludes that the U.S. can achieve a goal that has eluded Democrats since Harry Truman by building on former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Health care has sparked sharp exchanges in the Democratic presidential debates, and Tuesday night was no exception. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was challenged for being unwilling to say whether her support for Medicare for All would translate to higher taxes for the middle class. Warren said “costs” would be lower, but Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota suggested that was a dodge.

“I’m sorry, Elizabeth,” said Klobuchar. “I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we’re going to send the invoice.” She urged Democrats not to “trash Obamacare” but build on it.

The study suggests such heated discussions may have more to do with differences over the scope and reach of government than with the ultimate objective of providing universal coverage.

“A goal that they all share — universal coverage — can be reached in different ways,” said Sara Collins, the Commonwealth Fund’s vice president for coverage and access.

The researchers modeled a range of health care overhaul scenarios from tweaks to Obama’s law to a full government-run single-payer plan like Sanders is proposing. Collins said the options studied are not carbon copies of the candidates’ proposals, partly because many details are still in flux. However, they are generally similar.

The study found that a full government-run plan like Sanders’ would cover all U.S. residents, including people in the country without legal authorization. That adds up to more than 30 million currently uninsured people.

However, it would increase U.S. health care spending because of generous benefits with no copays and deductibles. Expanded benefits would include home and community-based long-term care services. Assuming the plan was fully effective in 2020, total U.S. health spending would grow by nearly $720 billion.

The federal government, which would take on costs now paid by employers and individuals, would have to raise nearly $2.7 trillion more in revenue in 2020. Such amounts would require a mix of broad-based taxes, the researchers said, although the report steered clear of how the plans would be financed.

“It is a big lift to get this kind of money, for sure,” said John Holahan, a top Urban Institute health policy expert.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll out this week found slippage in public support for Medicare for All. Fifty-one percent support such a government-run approach, down 5 percentage points since April. Opposition has risen significantly, from 38% in April to 47% in the latest survey.

The Commonwealth Fund-Urban Institute study also modeled options resembling the plan that Biden is pushing.

It starts with more generous subsidies for “Obamacare” plans and Medicaid expansion in states that have so far refused it. Then it adds a “public option” plan based on Medicare. People with employer coverage would be able to pick the public plan. There would be a mechanism to sign up all those eligible for coverage.

Such an approach would reduce the number of uninsured by about 80%, the study estimated. That would still leave nearly 7 million U.S. residents without coverage, mainly people who don’t have legal permission to be in the country. Under Biden’s plan taxpayer subsidies would only be available to U.S. citizens and legal residents.

Employer coverage would decline by about 10% as some low-income workers switch to the public option.

Assuming the plan was fully effective in 2020, total U.S. health care spending would decline by about $20 billion, a relatively small amount considering the nation’s tab is now more than $3.5 trillion a year. The decline would be partly due to the public option paying hospitals and doctors less than what private plans do now.

The federal government would have to raise from $108 billion to $147 billion more in 2020 to cover the additional cost of expanding subsidized coverage options, a fraction of the cost of Medicare for All.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s plan overlaps in many details with Biden’s.

The two think tanks are nonpartisan research organizations that have long supported expanded coverage. Their health care work is particularly influential with policymakers on the political left.

Trump dismisses Syria concerns; Dems walk out of WH meeting

WASHINGTON — Washing his hands of Syria, President Donald Trump declared Wednesday the U.S. has no stake in defending the Kurdish fighters who died by the thousands as America’s partners against IS extremists. Hours later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats walked out of a meeting at the White House, accusing him of having a “meltdown,” calling her a “third-grade politician” and having no plan to deal with a potentially revived Islamic State group.

Condemnation of Trump’s stance on Turkey, Syria and the Kurds was quick and severe during the day, not only from Democrats but from Republicans who have been staunch supporters on virtually all issues.

The House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the U.S. troop withdrawal. Many lawmakers expressed worry that it may lead to revival of IS as well as Russian presence and influence in the area — in addition to the slaughter of many Kurds.

At the White House, Trump said the U.S. has no business in the region — and not to worry about the Kurdish fighters.

“They know how to fight,” he said. “And by the way, they’re no angels.”

After the House condemnation vote, the congressional leaders of both parties went to the White house for a briefing, which grew contentious, with Trump and Pelosi trading jabs. The Democrats said they walked out when the meeting devolved into an insult-fest.

“What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown,” Pelosi told reporters, saying Trump appeared visibly “shaken up” over the House vote.

“We couldn’t continue in the meeting because he was just not relating to the reality of it,” she said.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump for not having an adequate plan to deal with IS fighters who have been held by the Kurds. He said the meeting “was not a dialogue, this was sort of a diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts.”

Republicans pushed back, saying it was Pelosi who’d been the problem.

“She storms out of another meeting, trying to make it unproductive,” said House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham called Pelosi’s action “baffling but not surprising.” She said the speaker “had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues.”

Trump himself has stalked out of his White House meetings with congressional leaders — in May, saying he would no longer work with Democrats unless they dropped all Russia investigations, and last January during the partial government shutdown.

Separately on Wednesday, a letter was disclosed in which he both cajoled and threatened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, urging him to act only in “the right and humane way” in Syria.

He started on a positive note, suggesting they “work out a good deal,” but then talked about crippling economic sanctions and concluded that the world “will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”

In public appearances Wednesday, Trump said he was fulfilling a campaign promise to bring U.S. troops home from “endless wars” in the Middle East — casting aside criticism that a sudden U.S. withdrawal from Syria betrays the Kurdish fighters, stains U.S. credibility around the world and opens an important region to Russia, which is moving in.

“We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria’s not happy about it. Let them work it out,” Trump said. “They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”

Trump said he was sending Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to urge the Turks to halt their weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria. But his remarks, first to reporters in the Oval Office and later at a news conference with his Italian counterpart, suggested he sees little at stake for America.

“Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So, there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”

“Let them fight their own wars.”

More than once, Trump suggested the United States has little concern in the Middle East because it is geographically distant — a notion shared by some prior to Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida militants used Afghanistan as a base from which to attack the U.S. That attack set off a series of armed conflicts, including in Iraq, that Trump considers a waste of American lives and treasure.

The current withdrawal is the worst decision of Trump’s presidency, said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who meets often with the president and is one of his strongest and most important supporters in Congress.

“To those who think the Mideast doesn’t matter to America, remember 9/11 — we had that same attitude on 9/10/2001.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he strongly disagreed with Trump and had told the president so. But he asked, “What tools do we have” to back up that disagreement?

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the area. Turkey’s Erdogan has said he wants to create a 20-mile-deep “safe zone” in Syria.

Ankara has long argued the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the U.S. and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.

Trump mischaracterized the progress made thus far by the U.S. military in carrying out his instructions to withdraw all 1,000 troops in northeastern Syria. He referred to the approximately two dozen soldiers who evacuated from Turkey’s initial attack zone last week, but cast that as meaning the U.S. has “largely” completed its pullout.

A U.S. official familiar with planning for the withdrawal of the 1,000 said that they are consolidating onto two main bases but have not yet begun flying out of Syria in significant numbers. Military equipment is being gathered and flown out, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the withdrawal, which poses big security risks.

Trump downplayed the crisis that followed his decision to pull out of Syria, which critics say amounted to giving Turkey a green light to invade against the Kurdish fighters.

“It’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe,” Trump said. “Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be.”

Trump did impose new sanctions on Turkey this week in an attempt to force Erdogan to end his assault. But he said Wednesday, “It’s time for us to come home.”

Even as Trump defended his removal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, he praised his decision to send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.

Trump said the U.S. is sending missiles and “great power” to the Saudis, and “they’re paying for that.”