More than one year ago, an Asheville firefighter died while battling a massive medical building blaze, and Wednesday his service was celebrated when a bridge was renamed in his honor.
After several months of work to honor Capt. Jeff Bowen for his dedication to the Asheville Fire Department and city that he served for 13 years up until the fatal fire on July 28, 2011, his memory was commemorated with the renaming of the Smoky Park Bridge to the Capt. Jeff Bowen Bridge.
In April, the North Carolina state board of transportation finally approved the renaming of the bridge on Interstate 240 that crosses the French Broad River in Bowen's honor.
Many in Asheville and throughout the state were behind the efforts to have the bridge renamed, including the Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Wayne Goodwin, Bowen's family, the Asheville City Council, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and firefighters from across the state.
"Capt. Bowen gave his life protecting others," Goodwin said. "To his family, friends and fellow firefighters, we express our humble gratitude for his and their service and sacrifice."
The proposal to rename the bridge was first put forward in December by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. 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.
Because of the large support behind the bridge's renaming, the roads committee said they would 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 brought to light some discrepancies within the naming policy.
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. The fire was ruled an arson.
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 more than 200 people escaped the building unharmed.
Investigators said the fire started on the fifth floor that houses administrative offices.
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.
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.
Bettencourt was also honored for his courage and determination in the fire. He was named the Firefighter of the Year by the North Carolina State Firemen's Association.
The NCSFA said Bettencourt desperately searched for an exit, not only for himself, but for his captain as well, returning to rescue Bowen, but in spite of his courageous efforts, lost his life that day.
"Jay's recognition is well deserved and reflects well not only on him, but as a tribute to his mentor Capt. Jeff Bowen, who always worked toward continuous improvement for himself and for the department," said Chief Scott Burnette.
Bettencourt was also named Firefighter of the Year by the Western North Carolina Association of Firefighters in January.
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Tuesday, June 18 2013 9:47 AM EDT2013-06-18 13:47:39 GMT
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