The following is the eulogy I wrote for my friend and mentor Bob Newell, shared at his funeral in his firehouse on January 27, 2008.
Since last Tuesday night – the night that tore us apart inside – and the same night that brought us all together; we have mourned the loss of Robert E. Newell.
As I was leaving the funeral home last night, I told Bev: “Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate.”
Tomorrow is here. So, today we CELEBRATE the life of Bob Newell. It starts NOW!
To say Bob had a certain way about him – is like saying water is “helpful” in putting out fires. He was a real character.
You never had to wonder how Bob felt about a person or a subject. Did you?
His honesty was at times cutting – surpassed only by his caring for others. You always knew where Bob stood on a matter. And for that, I loved him.
In fact, Bob was a lot like the drink he enjoyed most: fine scotch.
He was smooth, colorful and 100 proof.
Bob Newell loved to teach and students loved to be taught by him, young and old, experienced and green. I don’t know of many of our fire service leaders who never took a class from Bob Newell sometime in their career. His reach crossed county and state lines, career and volunteer.
Bob was most in his element when in the classroom or on the training ground. He exuded pride in training his replacements and took great satisfaction in teaching new recruits.
And he didn’t just teach them how to be firefighters; he taught them how to be great firefighters.
In addition to all of their requisite skills, Bob taught them discipline and teamwork. He taught them to respect their officers, their peers and themselves. He taught them that the road to leadership begins by being good followers.
Bob put them back in line when they stepped out, and he was never shy about offering a verbal kick in the pants where appropriate.
I remember him “booting” a new recruit from our second Firefighter 1 Boot Camp. He told him to pick up his “stuff” and promptly escorted him out the door.
But, Bob knew how to impart grace too.
He followed the recruit outside and coached the young man on the importance of authority and respect in the fire service.
After a time long enough to scare the crap out of the other students, Bob then allowed him to return and apologize to the class – and that new recruit is now a good fireman.
Bob taught many valuable lessons that way.
Bob was also adept at applying a gentle nudge just at the right time to boost his students’ confidence when they doubted their capabilities.
He wasn’t just a great teacher; he was a great listener too. Several of Bob’s students have since shared stories of how Instructor Newell listened to their troubles and then talked them down “off the ledge” of quitting a class or even the fire service.
He was a good judge of character and could tell pretty quickly if you were a good investment. If he saw the smallest glimmer of hope for your success, he invested everything he had in helping you reach your goals.
He never, ever, allowed anyone to fail themselves.
He taught his students about life in general, life as a firefighter and the importance of loving this job and all that it has to offer, good and bad.
Bob was a rare breed. He was both old school and cutting edge at the same time.
At age 63, and just a few years into his retirement, Bob was not one to slow down or cut back. He was always the one pushing us, always exploring new innovations and embracing new technologies and techniques.
He… was on top of his game.
His dedication to his family and the fire service were unmatched and his legacy will live on for years to come.
Bob Newell was a good firefighter, a great instructor, a class act and a generous friend.
And if you knew Newell like I knew Newell… I know you’ll agree.
Lastly I’d like to address Bob’s two families. For those of you who have been around the fire service, you know that being a firefighter is like leading a double life. There’s the life with your real family, and then there’s the life with us, your other family.
While Bob was integral to both of his families, I envied him for achieving success at balancing the two, always keeping his first family first: Bev, Rob, Jay and John.
But we also know that Bob immersed himself in his second family, this great fire department, for almost 40 years.
Bob Newell was not only in the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department – but the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department was in him too.
You don’t have to look far around this fire station to see Bob Newell’s thumbprint. He left a lasting impression on physical things like the training room and the maze – and on the faces of the people who share his love for this fire department.
I know how proud he was of Hamburg because he spoke of your successes often. Bob was always testing people to be their best – as he knew we were capable of.
And he sure put his fellow firefighters to the test this week with implementing the very firefighter funeral program that he had fostered.
You have stepped up to the challenge and done an outstanding job, each and every one of you, together as a team, just the way Bob taught you.
I know he is beaming with Hamburg pride as you honor him today.
Bev, thank you for keeping Bob grounded and balanced by frequently dragging him away on vacation – while we were dragging him in a million other directions.
While there was never any doubt whether Bob had his priorities straight, you made sure he took time out of his so-called retirement to be with his other loves: you, the boys, their girls, and your grandchildren.
He was never shy about talking about his pride in – and love for – each of you, and how much he enjoyed every moment he spent with you.
Anyone who knows anything about firefighters knows that it’s not us who are making the sacrifices. Missed meals, birthdays and other important family gatherings are just more opportunities for us to do what we love.
The people making the real sacrifices are the people who love us – the ones who are left behind when the siren sounds.
Bev and boys, I know you made some real sacrifices with Bob’s dedication to serving his fire department and his community; but please know that it was not in vain.
He did more for the Village of Hamburg Fire Department and our fire service – than we will possibly ever realize.
Thank you for sharing him with us. Thank you for the gift that was Bob.
Bob liked quotes from famous firefighters, never taking into account that he was a famous firefighter himself.
I selected this quote from Edward F. Crocker, Fire Chief of the Fire Department of New York from 1899 to 1911; that I think speaks of who Robert E. Newell was:
I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman.
The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one, but those who know the work which a fireman has to do believe his is a noble calling.
Our proudest moment is to save… lives.
Under the impulse of such thoughts the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to do deeds of daring, even of supreme sacrifice.
I said earlier that the celebration of Bob Newell starts right now. So, in that vain I hope to leave you with a smile, a snicker and as Bob would have it –a smart-ass remark.
Bob and I had pet names for each other. I called him “Newelldorf” because I felt bad that he didn’t have as many letters in his last name as I did.
He routinely called me “wise guy” or “smart ass” – and used them interchangeably.
Our secretary Debbie just told me Friday that he would ask for “Tigger” whenever he called the office. I didn’t know that. Trust me, I’ve been called worse.
As many of you know, I talked to Bob just a few hours before he passed away. We exchanged the usual “mutual harassment” and made lunch plans.
He ended the conversation by saying, “OK Wise Guy, I’ll see you on Friday.”
I said, “You’re buying and I’m eating,” which was how all of our lunches went.
This brief contact left me with a smile.
Later that evening, I experienced the privilege of being with his family and his fire service family as we started the mourning and remembrance process – the way Bob would expect us to: together.
This week’s events made me remember something that Bob had told me before he retired in 2000.
He heeded me a warning.
He said: “Schmittendorf… when I retire, I’m going to be the biggest pain in your ass… and the best friend you’ll ever want.”
I’ve known local WYRK Radio Personality Clay Moden for several years and in different circles, but even I was caught by surprise when he shared this ‘true confession’ about his life long dream to be a firefighter.
Although he hasn’t joined our ranks [yet], his confession does explain a lot about why he’s always been a very vocal supporter of the volunteer fire service (and everything else that is right about America).
I’m proud to know him and call him a friend – even if he only helps us from the sidelines. I hope his story inspires others to step up and join our service.
By at least my definition, Clay Moden is definitely a RuntotheCurb.com kid!
“A Good Fireman Retires” – Capt Al Hagan-Beloved Fire Officer & Union Leader (REPRINTED FROM: The Secret List)
An old friend (and one of the original TSL subscribers) Captain Al Hagan has retired from the FDNY. Al was also President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association IAFF Local 854.
www.ufoa.orgMany of you will also know Al as a popular FDIC and Firehouse Expo Instructor-among many other classes and seminars-you are definitely fortunate to have spent time with Al .
He is absolutely one of a kind.
Al retires almost 41 years working as a Firefighter (E-36), Lieutenant (L-44) and Captain (L-43). He retired Saturday morning, August 30th, effective at 0900….Labor Day weekend. He is also retiring as President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. In Al’s words: “Collectively, it was a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world! I’d like to thank all of you that were kind enough to help.”
Take a moment to read and enjoy the below story from The Chief Leader.
Even if you haven’t met Al-take a look at the below for a great lesson in leadership-at the firehouse-and at the political level:
A GOOD FIREMAN-CAPTAIN AL HAGAN:
Alexander Hagan last week had already removed all of his personal photos from his office: the many snaps of his family, but also the one that captured himself in a very different time-in gym shorts as a young man who competed in five marathons when he wasn’t fighting fires.
As he got ready to retire on Aug. 30, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association President and Fire Captain, now 64, looked back fondly on a time when on nice days, he sometimes ran the 13 miles to work.
Smoke Took a Toll
Those days have slipped past, ended by a bum knee and the chronic bronchitis and cough that have plagued him for more than a decade. The lung problems recently sparked a diagnosis of reactive airway disease, a condition that can result from exposure to noxious substances and that has been called “occupational asthma.” Mr. Hagan said he might have gotten it even if he hadn’t spent months cleaning up at the World Trade Center site after Sept. 11. Read more of this post
I enjoyed meeting you this morning at Depew’s day drill. I belong to the Depew Fire Department’s Hook & Ladder Co. 1. I am proudly a “Hook” with a Maltese Cross tattoo to prove it too. (Once a Hook, Always a Hook!)
I want to tell you this one story:
My proudest moment in the department came nearly two years ago, February 2011, at my Mom’s wake.
This will be a shorter version of a much more detailed post to come but for now, I have to share some of the story behind this photo.
JIM GUY: Just found this photo of Tiger (when he was just a cub) and Iron Mike- DCFD
A good friend and mentor of mine, Jim Guy just posted this photo of me that dates back almost 20 years.
I’ll never forget my first trip to Washington, DC and visiting the “Midnight Express” — home to 16 Engine, 3 Truck and the 6th Battalion Chief. Despite being my first trip, accompanied by Jim, Dave Sherman and Ric Dimpfl, they made me drive on the Beltway around DC — just perfect.
We were traveling as the management team of The Fire Fighter Newspaper, a publication just three years in existence at the time, to the annual National Fire & Emergency Services Congressional Caucus dinner hosted by the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI.org) at the famous Washington Hilton. As the dinner cost something like $250 a plate, we were honored to be the guests of Volunteer Firemens Insurance Services (VFIS.com). (Why the Washington Hilton is famous is fodder for the longer version of this story!) Read more of this post
Last year, I wasn’t so lucky. I was tasked with interviewing and capturing the stories of the survivors about their firefighters.
Our goal was to capture 60-90 seconds of video for sharing via the Foundation’s various social media channels. Invariably, even if I talked to a particular survivor for 10 to 15 minutes, it wasn’t until the end or when I asked if they had anything else they’d like to share, if they had anything else they wanted people to know about their loved one — that the real gemstones of insight came out. Read more of this post
I just came home from responding to my third second-alarm fire of the week in my role as Deputy Fire Coordinator in the Erie County Department of Emergency Services and have a narrow window of opportunity to write this post. I’ve got about two hours to shower, shave, eat and then report to a law enforcement detail I’m assigned to until 3am. So here goes:
Earlier today I responded to an EMS call for a person with chest pains. Being assigned as Fire/Rescue only, I don’t typically respond to a ton of house calls but I try to help out at my fair share. Today, I was glad I did.
Two of my all-time favorites at the fire station: Angelo Rizzuto and Denny Allen+ at a drill in 2010.
Upon returning to the station I went around to the administrative side of our building to check on the progress of our large parking lot paving project (large, as in square feet and dollars!). The contractors were just finishing the last section of new sidewalk around the perimeter of our assembly hall. Standing there with our President Geordie Sinclair and 53-year active member Angelo Rizzuto, I asked Geordie if I could write my initials in the corner of the concrete, just as I had done when the assembly hall and original sidewalk were built, in 1971.
I remember that event as if it were yesterday, recalling how the contractors paid a few of us neighborhood kids 25 or 50 cents a day to help them pick up materials and debris. I was 8-years old.
I thought that initialing the new sidewalk would only be appropriate, seeing as I’m still here, so many years later. It was then that Geordie reminded me that I have an important anniversary coming up this week. Read more of this post
I stumbled upon these videos while searching for another fire service related piece and thought they were cute. The first shows two twin boys running to the engine and gearing up for the big one while the second video shows an older boy waiting for his turn to really ride the big rig.
While neither video is certainly “professional grade,” they are both good reminders of what made each of us come to the fire service as Run-to-the-Curb kids and hopefully serve to motivate us to keep doing what we love to do.
I’m sure there are plenty more videos just like this out there on the web. Do you have a photo or video of your future firefighter gearing up to be a Run-to-the-Curb kid? We’d love to share it here.
Please join me for a special Veterans Day tribute show on FirefighterStorytellers.com on Wednesday-November 9, 2011 at 9pm EST.
We’ll be joined by a few very special guests who are veterans of both the armed forces and the fire service — my favorite kind of two-hatter — including Vince Pupo Jr., a Marine, Fire Investigator and retired Fire Chief and Sheriffs Department Detective.
In addition to being a well-known fire service “character” — Vince has written and shared his experiences of his military service during the Vietnam War and now writes short stories and poems related to military life and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affecting veterans.
Tribute to Soldier/Volunteer Firefighter: SSG Matthew Kreiger
The show will be dedicated to Matt Kreiger, a fine young man from my volunteer fire company (Evans Center) who is recovering from being shot in the head while serving in Afghanistan earlier this year. We will also recognize the efforts of WNYHeroes.org — a local organization dedicated to elevating the status of our veterans from desperate back to decorated.
Please help us spread the news of this very special show by downloading, printing and distributing the show flyer and/or sharing a link on your Facebook page or other social network. We hope that you can join us.