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Health law leaves volunteer firefighting in limbo
Written by ALANNA DURKIN, Associated Press   
Sunday, 05 January 2014 13:03

FREEPORT, Maine (AP) — Fire chiefs and lawmakers are working to protect the system of volunteer firefighting that has served rural America for more than a century but is threatened by an ambiguity in President Barack Obama's health care law.

Small and rural fire departments from California to Maine, which has one of the country's highest percentages of volunteer and on-call firefighters, rely on volunteers to avoid the budget-strapping cost of paying them to be on duty in between fighting fires.

The volunteers are considered employees for tax purposes, a classification that grew out of an ongoing effort to attract firefighters by offering them such incentives as stipends, retirement benefits and free gym memberships.

That leaves open the question of whether the volunteer firefighters fall under the health care law's requirement that employers with 50 or more employees working at least 30 hours a week must provide health insurance for them. Fire departments say they can't afford to pay such a cost.

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Pope to travel to Holy Land in May amid peace push
Written by NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press   
Sunday, 05 January 2014 13:02

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis will travel to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in May, his first visit to the Holy Land and one that comes amid a new U.S. push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Francis told thousands gathered in the rain for his weekly Sunday blessing that "in the climate of joy that is typical of the Christmas season," he was announcing a visit May 24-26 to Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It is the only papal trip confirmed so far for 2014 and the second foreign trip of Francis' pontificate, following his 2013 visit to Brazil for World Youth Day.

Francis said his prime aim was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and the then-spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Atengora. Catholics and Orthodox have been divided since the Great Schism of 1054, precipitated largely by disagreements over the primacy of the pope.

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Two survive small-plane crash off California coast
Written by CHRISTOPHER WEBER, Associated Press   
Sunday, 05 January 2014 07:55

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The pilot of a small airplane that experienced engine failure and went down Saturday off the Southern California coast near Catalina Island said it never occurred to him that he wouldn't survive the crash.

"I was pretty calm. You look at the situation and you realize this is what we have to deal with. I had a pretty good idea what I needed to do," said David Prizio, 62, of Tustin.

Prizio told The Associated Press that he and his lone passenger were cruising at 6,500 feet on their way to lunch on Catalina when the plane's engine suddenly died.

"I did some pretty quick math and realized I wasn't going to make it to the airport," said Prizio, a retired contractor and a pilot for some 40 years.

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 January 2014 07:59
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Third person dies after Minn. apartment explosion
Written by Associated Press   
Sunday, 05 January 2014 07:58

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A third person injured in Minneapolis apartment building explosion has died, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office said Saturday.

Abdiqani Adan, 29, who did not live in the building, died Friday at the Hennepin County Medical Center, according to the office.

Meanwhile, two survivors still in the hospital recounted jumping from windows to save themselves. Abdi Qobey, 59, was sitting in bed watching television early on New Year's Day when he heard a boom and saw the walls buckle.

"I see the smoke. I see already I'm going to suffocate if I stay one more minute," said Qobey. "I knew that if I stay, I'm not going to stay alive."

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Potentially record-setting cold to start Sunday
Written by CARSON WALKER, Associated Press   
Sunday, 05 January 2014 07:52

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Bitterly cold temperatures blowing into the Midwest and Northeast in the coming days are likely to set records, disrupt schools along with airports and endanger those who go outside without the proper clothing.

The frigid air will begin Sunday and last into early next week, funneled as far south as the Gulf Coast because of what one meteorologist called a "polar vortex," a counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air.

As a result, forecasters are expecting startling temperatures in many places: 25 below zero in Fargo, N.D., minus 31 in International Falls, Minn., and 15 below in Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills may reach 50, 60 or even 70 below zero.

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