Local Leads: 11/21/2009 - NBC4 Washington

Local Leads: 11/21/2009

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    The following stories have been hand-selected by the Assignment Desk at News4:

    A firefighter is being treated for first- and second-degree burns after battling a house fire early this morning.   Montgomery County firefighters were called to a home on Chelsea Knoll Drive in Gaithersburg near the county Airpark, just after 3 a.m.  "Units arrived on the scene of a two-story, single-family dwelling, with heavy fire from the garage extending into the first and second floors," says Assistant Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Graham.  He says crews began attacking the flames from the inside, but, "the firefighters were forced then to go to a defensive attack due to the volume of fire in the structure."  The injured firefighter was taken to a local burn unit with burns to the hand, forehead and knee. The injuries are considered serious but not life-threatening. No one else was hurt.

    The Joseph H. Brown Jr. Funeral Home offers solace for families of shooting victims. But it was no haven Thursday night, when a woman stepped outside from a viewing for her boyfriend - a 51-year-old man who had been killed by a bullet a week earlier - and was fatally shot.  Standing just beyond the crime scene tape in a light drizzle, an older man passing through the area watched as detectives gathered evidence.  "Some things supposed to be sacrosanct," he said.  But they aren't, said Joseph H. Brown III, a fourth-general mortician who handles services for at least two or three city homicide victims each month.  He stood outside the funeral home in the 2100 block of N. Fulton Ave. on Friday morning, sipping coffee and wondering aloud what to do about the bullet hole marring the glass vestibule of his 16,000-square-foot building. A few steps away, a man wearing gloves and plastic boots tried to clean blood from the sidewalk with bleach. It's not gone, but it's better, he told Brown.  Respect for funerals has "gone out the window," Brown said.

    Wide-eyed children around the world will be hearing from Santa's "elves" at the North Pole after all.  During Christmas seasons for decades, these dedicated elves responded to thousands of letters addressed to "Santa Claus, North Pole."  All that was ending with a U.S. Postal Service decision to discontinue the program based in the small Alaskan town amid privacy concerns.  The elves from Santa's Mailbag vowed to fight the decision, while North Pole residents voiced outrage.  A reversal of the Postal Service move was announced Friday.  "We never wanted to spoil people's Christmas," said agency spokesman Ernie Swanson. "It was just a decision we had to make based on privacy concerns, and it is labor-intensive. But it's still nice that we're able to resume this and still make people's holiday."  The letters will now be answered under tightened privacy rules implemented nationwide by the Postal Service in response to security concerns that arose in a similar program in Maryland last year.

    Gasoline prices are higher than a year ago, but more Washingtonians are expected to travel this Thanksgiving holiday.  Nearly 1 million Washington area residents are expected to hit the roads this week, and they will likely travel 50 miles or more over the six-day holiday period, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Mahlon G. "Lon" Anderson.  The increase in highway travelers from the Washington area is partly linked to the area's slightly better economy, which outshines many other U.S. cities.  "Area residents can count their blessings this Thanksgiving because our region has the highest median household income in the United States—$84,824—and one of the lowest unemployment rates. So, higher gas prices and travel costs won't necessarily deter them from traveling in greater numbers than last Thanksgiving," stated Anderson in an e-mail