A group of local firefighters have mounted a fundraising effort to help the family of Capt. Jeff Bowen, who died July 28, 2011, while responding to a fire at the medical office building at 445 Biltmore Avenue, across from St. Joseph’s campus of Mission Hospital.
Jay Bettencourt, a fireman who worked with Bowen and almost lost his own life fighting the same blaze at Mission Hospital, launched a website Jan. 4 to sell T-shirts honoring his fallen captain (www.captainjeffbowen.com). All of the proceeds will be given to Bowen’s family.
“This website is a way for me to continue to serve Capt. Bowen by supporting his family in his absence. … To make sure his mother, wife and three children continue to get support,” he explains. “They’ve gotten quite a bit of outreach from the community, from the fire service in these months. And I just want to make sure it continues for the rest of their lives. Capt. Bowen would have been there for them for decades to come. And I want to help fill in that void.”
The T-shirts were designed by Rick Miller, another firefighter who worked under Bowen. They’ve already sold about 2,000 of them over the last several months, in person at local fundraisers, says Bettencourt. But he hopes the new website will help them sell on a much bigger scale.
“There’s a lot of people at other fire departments around the state, around the nation, that wanted these T-shirts,” says Bettencourt. “This is a chance for others to get these shirts and show support for the Bowen family and the fire department in general.”
The Asheville Fire Department and the Asheville Firefighters’ Association have both been very supportive of the effort, according to Bettencourt.
Asheville Fire Chief Scott Burnette has arranged for an email to go out to all the firefighters in the state linking to the website. And the local firefighters association put up the initial funding to produce the first round of shirts, Bettencourt says.
Another local firefighter who worked to put down the Mission Hospital blaze, Jeremy Brooks, was also instrumental in getting the effort going, birthing the idea within days of Bowen’s death, says Burnett.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners requested that the North Carolina Board of Transportation rededicate the Smoky Park Bridge in Bowen’s name. And authorities are continuing to search for any suspects who may be involved with starting the fire, which investigators determined was arson. Bowen’s passing marked the first time an Asheville firefighter had died in the line of duty since 1982.