jsuss277

Members of area fire departments, friends and family gather around the grave of local firefighter Kenneth Fowler at Bridge Street Cemetery in West Newbury yesterday. Fowler died unexpectedly at age 37 last week.

WEST NEWBURY — The town gathered to bury one of its own yesterday, as hundreds honored Lt. Kenneth Edward Fowler of the West Newbury Fire Department, a man warmly remembered for his easy smile and unassuming generosity.

The Prospect Street resident died suddenly last Thursday of an apparent heart attack. A Pentucket High School graduate, Fowler, 37, is survived by his wife, Keri Fowler, who also serves on the town Fire Department; his parents, Don and Elaine Fowler, who own the West Newbury Foodmart; and his sister, Mary Ann Fowler.

Led by Fire Engineer Jack Connolly and Lt. John Duxbury, the final tribute to Fowler followed classic firefighter protocol.

“Everybody played a part, but those two guys were really involved from the beginning,” said fire Chief Raymond “Rock” Dower.

The fire station was draped in black mourning bunting, and firefighters took turns standing honor guard throughout the well-attended viewing hours at the Paul C. Rogers Family funeral home in Merrimac on Sunday. The state Fire Marshal’s office provided an Incident Support Unit to allow firefighters standing guard a chance to warm up; townspeople supplied refreshments.

Under a gray and snowy sky yesterday morning, the West Newbury Fire Company, led by an honor guard, marched solemnly in full dress uniform from the Public Safety Complex to St. Ann’s Church. Wearing traditional firefighter gear, members of other local fire companies — Boxford, Groveland, Ipswich, Merrimac, Middleton, Newbury, Rowley, Westford and Exeter, N.H. — joined the contingent to stand at attention in front of the church.

Meanwhile, a funeral procession led by the Board of Selectmen slowly made its way from the funeral home, across the Rocks Village Bridge and up Church Street. With red lights flashing, Engine 24, draped in black and with the words “In loving memory of Lt. Kenneth E. Fowler” painted on the back, reached St. Ann’s. The fire chief’s vehicle, Engine 23 and the forestry truck — which, as the department’s official mechanic, Fowler spent so much of his time rebuilding — were also part of the silent procession.

Pallbearers Brett Berkinshaw, Glenn Coffin, Peter Connolly, George Evans, Charles Fowler, Kenneth Knight, Robin Shively and Charlie Thompson flanked the hearse on either side. The only sound was snowflakes hitting the icy pavement, until at the crest of the hill, the procession was joined by the Firefighter Bagpipe Corps from Chelsea playing “Amazing Grace.” Acting police Chief Lisa Holmes, police Sgt. Jeffrey Durand and Salisbury police Chief David L’Esperance, formerly of the West Newbury police, also stood at attention as Fowler’s casket was carried into the church.

During the service, Fowler, who had served on the call Fire Department since 1993, was tearfully described by his sister-in-law Niki Fiset as “a saint in my eyes.”

“Kenny will always be remembered for leaving this world a better place than how he found it,” she said.

Fowler was a quiet person, who led by “example and intelligence,” said Fire Engineer Mark Hemingway, recalling how Fowler often spent his lunch hour at the fire station working on the trucks.

He was a “blue jeans and T-shirt” type, “the go-to guy if you had a problem with anything mechanical,” Hemingway said.

The service closed with a reading of “The Firemen’s Prayer” by Deputy Chief Glenn Coffin. The funeral party proceeded to the fire station, where Deputy Chief Steve Arnold and Lt. Robert Janes laid a wreath on a memorial out front. Fowler’s casket was driven past his Prospect Street home one last time, before heading to the Bridge Street Cemetery where firefighters were lining the graveside. The bell on Engine 24 was rung repeatedly, echoed by the fire horn back at the fire station.

In an emotional tribute, a dispatcher then twice issued a call over all firefighters’ radios for Car 11 — Fowler’s official firefighter number, after which the number was permanently retired. Dower then handed the lieutenant’s helmet and a folded flag to Fowler’s wife.

“I had hoped to get through my 43-year career without having to bury one of my firefighters. It hurts,” Dower said.

Still, the fire chief said he was never prouder of his department or the community — from the police organizing traffic control and the Highway Department clearing snowy walkways, to Selectman Glenn Kemper catering a reception at the Old Town Hall, and members of the community flocking on Thursday to the Foodmart to help out by unloading deliveries and stocking shelves.

“Everybody — but everybody — came together,” said Dower, “Everybody in town has felt this loss.”

Donations in Fowler’s name can be made to: The West Newbury Fire Company, PO Box 777, West Newbury, MA 01985

Trending Video

Recommended for you