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Dairy family shows resilience in face of hardship

Slideshow: The Getz family dairy is rebuilding after a devastating fire and a family member’s arrest.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the burned-out tie-stall barn at the Getz family dairy is slowly coming back to life.

I live about two miles from the Getz farm and noticed recently that a new roof was being installed on the barn that burned down a few months ago. I called up Todd Getz recently and paid a visit.

The remnants of that early September fire are everywhere. Debris is still strewn all over the place, the base of a torn-down tower silo is visible and milking cows are nowhere to be found. But work is humming inside the tie-stall barn. Several tie stalls have been repaired, new piping has been installed and a new roof is nearly complete.

Another tower silo has been fixed up and will be used to store silage.

Pretty soon the electrical contractors will be on-site to get some electricity flowing into the barn. Todd Getz, middle son of the three Getz brothers, hopes to bring back the cows in a few weeks.

Their return will hopefully help bring to a close a dark chapter in the dairy’s history.

Heat of the moment

If you need a refresher, Tim Getz, 35, the youngest of the three Getz brothers, was trying to get as many cows out of the burning two-story bank barn after it caught fire during a hot and muggy September evening. Court records show that a Pennsylvania State Trooper, responding to the fire, tried pulling Tim out of the barn when. But Getz allegedly hit the trooper and was arrested. He initially faced three charges that could have landed him significant jail time, including harassment and aggravated assault, but those charges have since been dropped. He still faces a charge of obstructing a police officer and his next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 19.

I was taking my son to soccer practice the night of the fire and I noticed the thick, black smoke around town. I didn’t think anything of it until the next morning. I found out that the fire killed 24 animals, including 14 cows, eight yearling heifers and two calves. The second story of the bank barn, where hay bales were stored, burned down. The hot hay smoldered for weeks after the fire was extinguished.

Facebook burned up with calls for Tim’s charges to be dropped. A change.org petition garnered more than 40,000 signatures.

Tim, likely on advice from his attorney, hasn’t talked much to the media about the incident, so Todd has become the unofficial family spokesman. Todd insists that his brother was only trying to get his animals out and that he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. What happened was in the heat of the moment, he says, and that neither he nor his brother have ever been in trouble with the law, short of a few parking and traffic tickets.

Back on their feet

I drive by the farm almost every day wondering how the family is doing. If you want to see the effects of a struggling dairy farm in Pennsylvania, this is a good place to go.

But it’s good to see this family starting to get back on their feet. Thankfully, dairy prices have improved significantly. Todd says they’re even thinking of putting in a greenhouse to diversify the farm.

This family is resilient. I talked to Todd and his father, Marlin, for about an hour and I was amazed at their positive attitude. The way dairy farmers have struggled the past few years, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they just threw in the towel. In fact, Todd says they talked about giving up several times.

Yet, months after a devastating fire, they’re ready to bring back the cows.

If there is any lesson to be learned from this incident, it’s to get a written emergency or fire plan on paper and try to get local authorities involved.

Penn State has tips on how to develop an emergency plan with first responders that's available online.

You can also find resources at ready.gov/make-a-plan or from OSHA's ag safety sheet.

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