Locals gather to honor Capt. Jeff Bowen, dedicate memorial

Asheville Fire Chief Scott Burnette speaks to a crowd of more than 50 people about Capt. Jeff Bowen, the firefighter who died nearly two years ago while attempting to extinguish the three-alarm fire at 445 Biltmore Ave. A dedication ceremony was held Thursday, Oct. 10 at the newly renovated 1 Hospital Drive, formerly known as 445 Biltmore. (Photo by Caitlin Byrd)

As Asheville Fire Chief Scott Burnette stood speaking during a memorial dedication for Capt. Jeff Bowen at Mission Health on Thursday afternoon, he had to stop when nearby firetruck sirens rang out.

“I’ve got to pause here and just listen to our firefighters responding,” Burnette told the crowd of more than 50 people who attended the dedication. “Capt. Bowen would have had it no other way.”

More than two years ago, Bowen died while fighting a three-alarm fire at 445 Biltmore Ave. In that same fire, nine firefighters were injured. The fire was later determined to be arson, but the cause of the fire remains unknown — the case unsolved. 

As a result of the fire, many of the businesses housed within the building relocated. Now called 1 Hospital Drive, the building is currently occupied mostly by Mission Health, which takes up about 90 percent of the office building. The health system will offer 10 different services at the location, which include care management, health education, inpatient glucose staff offices, medical weight management programs, medication assistance program, nicotine dependence programs, senior services, and orthopedic-trauma, trauma and wound clinics. The remaining 10 percent of the building will be occupied by 21st Century Oncology.

Though construction renovations cost more than $6 million, the rebuilding that Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy spoke of at the dedication ceremony did not include dollar signs.

“This is an opportunity for healing and restoration,” she says. “During the times of crisis, we have repeatedly seen the strength of our community. Asheville is a community where its citizens care for each other during difficult situations. Asheville is a community that showed support and concern for Capt. Jeff Bowen’s family since July 28, 2011. Asheville is a community that committed to honor Capt. Jeff Bowen through the rebuilding of this building and with the dedication of this building today.”

Burnette also spoke of the community’s resolve, saying that this building represents more than brick-and-mortar.

“This facility is a strong symbol, not only of our community’s willingness to help others, but it’s a strong symbol of our community’s resilience. Just as this building was not completely destroyed, our community has not been completely destroyed,” he says.

Standing before the building at 1 Hospital Drive, Bowen’s mother, Laurel Bowen, reminisced about previous ceremonies that honored her son’s heroism. Last summer, the Smoky Park Bridge was renamed the Capt. Jeff Bowen Bridge. Before that, he was honored at a North Carolina Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial Service in Raleigh, N.C.

However, she says this dedication is different from the rest.

“This is where it all happened. This is where he died, this is where he gave his life,” she says.

A plaque about the fire and Capt. Bowen will be mounted in the lobby of the restored building. Bowen’s mother says she hopes that the plaque will do the same thing as the Capt. Jeff Bowen Bridge: honor her son’s memory and service for generations to come.

“I’d see the sign [driving to and from work] and my thing was that some little child is going to say ‘Who’s Capt. Bowen?’ Hopefully mom and dad can say he was a firefighter who died in the line of duty and they named this bridge after him. This is kind of the same thing. He worked diligently in this building and gave his life. For them to honor him in this way is a great honor for us.”

Though it was an emotional day for her, Laurel said that she found the comfort of her son in the blare of the sirens.

“He has little ways, during a lot of these ceremonies, of letting us know he’s here,” she says.

Caitlin Byrd can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 140.


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