NCDOT says no to naming bridge for fallen firefighter - FOX Carolina 21

NCDOT says no to naming bridge for fallen firefighter

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ASHEVILLE, NC (FOX Carolina) -

For Asheville firefighters, the knowledge of what happened one July day last year is still there and still on the minds and hearts of many.

"It's on my mind every day I come to work, every day I leave to go home, and on my days off," says Battalion Chief Dan Flinn.

It's the memory of Captain Jeff Bowen. Bowen died fighting a fire that investigators determined to be intentionally set.  

Right now, there's a tribute for him at the Asheville Fire Department.  It's an old fire engine, no longer used, with flowers and a sign, with Bowen's name and his number - 301. In the months since Bowen's death, the city has been wanting to pay tribute to him by renaming a bridge in his name.

But a little known North Carolina state policy has come in the way.

"The law or statute that was stated today - no one really knew about it," says Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy.

North Carolina's Department of Transportation policy doesn't allow for firefighters or emergency responders who die on the job to have state-owned roads or bridges named after them. This is different from law enforcement officers dying in the line of duty, who can have bridges and roads named after them.

In this case, Asheville wanted to rename the bridge on Interstate 240 that goes over the French Broad River in Bowen's honor. Bellamy says, "Jeff was going to be remembered on a bridge he traveled every day to work, and one that he saved lives on."

In the months after Bowen's death, the city and Buncombe County received universal support for renaming the bridge. But they had no idea the state would turn them down.

"Collectively," says Flinn, "we all thought this was a done deal. Who better to name it after?"

The state, for its part, says there would simply be too many people to honor if they said yes to some and not to others. From the Department of Transportation perspective, it comes down to an issue of fairness.

Bellamy feels it's about fairness, too, but for a completely different reason.

"I think that anyone who puts that badge on and who's willing to put their lives on the line to protect put public - they should be treated equally," said Bellamy.

City leaders we talked with tonight say the decision is disheartening, but it's not the end.

"This certainly won't be the last opportunity to memorialize Jeff," says Flinn.

Bellamy says she's going to be working with Asheville City Council to find another way to pay tribute to Bowen.

In the meantime, the fire that Bowen died in last year is an open arson case. Authorities still don't have any suspects.

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