NCDOT approves renaming bridge for fallen firefighter - FOX Carolina 21

NCDOT approves renaming bridge for fallen firefighter

Posted: Updated: April 5, 2012 11:58 AM

The hopes of many in Asheville and Buncombe County came true Thursday to rename a bridge for the fallen fire captain who died fighting a fire in July.

State laws had previously prevented the resolution from being passed at the local level until the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Road Naming Committee unanimously approved renaming the Smoky Park Bridge on Interstate 240 that goes over the French Broad River in Capt. Jeff Bowen's honor on Wednesday.

The resolution then went before the full North Carolina Board of Transportation Thursday, and was approved unanimously.

The new name will go into effect immediately, though it would take time for signs to be made.

The proposal to rename the bridge was first put forward in December by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. 

The resolution requested that the North Carolina Board of Transportation dedicate the bridge, located near his Asheville fire station, in his memory. 

But the resolution opposed a state policy that Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy said no one knew about.

The DOT policy does not 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 the months after Bowen's death, the city and county received universal support for renaming the bridge, unaware of the state policy, which put a hold on the renaming in early March.

The state, for its part, said there would simply be too many people to honor if they said yes to some and no to others. From the DOT perspective, it comes down to an issue of fairness.

Because of the large support behind the bridge's renaming, the roads committee said they will take a closer look at current policies to see if revisions need to be made. DOT officials said the Bowen bridge is a special case that has brought to light some discrepancies within the naming policy.

Additionally, several waiting periods were waived because of the recommendations of the committee for the board to take a final vote on Thursday.

While officials reexamine the policy, there will be a 3-month moratorium on renaming resolutions in the North Carolina.

Bowen was a 13-year veteran of the Asheville Fire Department who died while responding to a four-alarm fire after calling for help while fighting the fire on the fifth floor of the 445 Biltmore Ave. medical building.

Officials said Bowen went into cardiac arrest after succumbing to intense smoke and heat.

Fire officials said firefighter Jay Bettencourt was treated at the burn unit at a hospital in Augusta, GA, and was later released. They said six others were admitted for heat-related injuries and were expected to recover.

Investigators said the fire started on the fifth floor that houses administrative offices.

Several organizations, including the North Carolina State Fire Marshal, Asheville Fire Department, Buncombe County Fire Fighters Association and the Buncombe County Fire Chief's Association proposed the bridge's dedication to the county board.

The July fire remains an open arson investigation. A reward is being offered for any information that would lead to an arrest in the case.

Copyright 2012 FOX Carolina (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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