I make no apologies if my readers have grown tired of my semi-annual tribute piece to a man who meant more than a mentor to me, as this year is even more special to me, and even more important than the previous five.Each time I've written about how Bob Newell impacted my life and the life of others through his servant attitude, compassionate but no-BS instruction and his "unique" style.
This past Saturday-January 18, 2014 – I had the honor of installing the chief officers and captains of the Orchard Park Volunteer Fire Company, including my good friend and true servant leader: Chief Chris Couell; Assistant Chiefs Rich Mrugalski and Matt Cavanagh; Rescue Captain Paul Scolese and two other special people in the line-up: Fire Captains John Newell and Jordan Kellerman.
John Newell is Bob's youngest son, someone I've grown attached to since Bob's passing and someone I've had the pleasure of watching grow in the fire service.
Jordan is the 2006 Firefighter 1 Boot Camp Recruit I refer to in the story I tell frequently when describing Bob Newell's unique ability to impart firm discipline, balanced with grace and forgiveness.
It's the story I told when I eulogized him at his funeral, in his firehouse, six years ago:
"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."
What made Saturday night so special, wasn't just that I got to swear-in this former-recruit who has grown into a fine young man, an officer and a leader; it was that I was also offered the opportunity to present this young leader with a very special award with some very special people standing next to me.
You may have heard that we had a little blizzard here in Buffalo just a few weeks ago. And, you may have heard that one of our county's many volunteer fire departments had an extremely challenging firefight right in the middle of those blizzard conditions: the Orchard Park Volunteer Fire Company.
What you probably haven't heard about yet, are the heroics of one of their young officers: Jordan Kellerman. Jordan was the first firefighter to arrive on scene and through the blinding snow, saw fire showing from the second floor on the front of the multi-unit apartment building.
Although being told that everyone was out, Jordan went in to investigate, yelling out for anyone who might still be in the building, forced to literally kick-in doors to verify no one was trapped behind them. Coming back to the fire floor he found a door locked on an apartment directly across from the original fire room. Calling out once again and just before he kicked in the door, a woman on the other side of the door said, "I'm in here."
Jordan urged her to open the door and get out when she replied, "No. I'm scared. I have three kids in here with me." Captain Kellerman was able to convince her to open the door, which he promptly stepped inside, closing the door behind him. He then calmly escorted the woman and three children out a patio door to safety, and continued the firefight for the next several hours, without any fanfare, just doing his job.
For bringing calm to chaos, and for his heroic and selfless efforts under extreme conditions, Chief Couell presented Jordan Kellerman with a Distinguished Service Award joined by me and three other key influences in Jordan's life and career: Captain John Newell and Firefighter Jay Newell, president of the neighboring Armor Volunteer Fire Company in Hamburg.
Rounding out the group of presenters was Jay Mazurkiewicz, a frequent instructor of everyone in the presentation line-up and a fire protection specialist with the New York State Office of Fire Prevention & Control.
It made for a very special and rewarding moment for everyone involved as Jordan received a standing ovation from his peers, and rightly so. In fact, I'd venture to say that the large majority of the firefighters standing were also students of Instructor Bob Newell at some point in their career – another tribute to "The Bob Legacy" that held special meaning for everyone there.
So as we celebrate our fond memories of Bob Newell this year on the sixth anniversary of his death January 22, 2008 – we celebrate Jordan Kellerman, John Newell and Jay Newell too. We celebrate each and all of them for who they have become, who they have been influenced by, and for the disciplined leaders we know they will become in the years to come.
I'm extremely proud to be associated with all of these fine firefighters and fire service leaders, and I know Bob would be beaming with pride, joining that woman and three children in thanking God that he wisely gave Jordan Kellerman that second chance eight years ago.
Just as predicted, Bob's legacy lives on in so many of us, myself included.
Rest in peace brother.