Two brave Route 377 firemen lost their lives fighting a fire on Island Fork Road April 6, 1999. More than 100 people including family members, friends and fellow firemen gathered at the memorial site Sunday afternoon.
Route 377 firefighters Kenny Nickell and Kevin Smith died of smoke inhalation while fighting a fire that blazed out of control at 890 Island Fork Road.
Route 377 Fire Department’s Danny Blevins was the in command on the scene during the fire that day. He explained what happened.
“We got the call at 4:30 p.m.,” Blevins said. “The fire started along Island Fork Road. There were 10 firefighters on the scene who constructed a hand line to keep the fire from spreading to structures.”
Blevins said the fire rapidly got out of control.
“The fire jumped the line and cut Kenny and Kevin from their escape route, that is why they were located there.”
The two firefighters were wearing issued wildland equipment while fighting the fire.
“We discovered them within minutes of the fire,” Blevins said. “Both men were removed from the scene by the coroner’s office.”
The fire was under control at 9:30 p.m. that evening, burning 158 acres of land and wooded area. The cause of the fire was undetermined, Blevins said.
Words can’t express what emotions were felt that day as firemen discovered Kevin and Kenny and had to finish battling the blaze, Blevins said.
“It was gut wrenching,” Blevins said as he searched for the words. “It really sets you back. It was a real sense of loss of the two firemen knowing they were trying to help save others’ lives.”
Dowe Blevins, Route 377 Fire Department fire chief, commented on how losing the firefighters affected the fire department and the families of the gentlemen who perished.
“It’s definitely life changing,” Blevins said. “They’ve (Nickell and Smith) sacrificed a lot. Everyone has been through a tragedy.”
Blevins said the fire department has been coming to the memorial site every year since the tragic event.
“We came here for the family,” Blevins said. “This is awesome. Remembering them here is awesome. I’m proud of them. I’m proud of everyone being here and being great to us.”
Family members, friends and fellow firefighters hiked up the steep hillside where Nickell and Smith gave their lives. They gathered around the site that was dedicated to their memory Sunday afternoon. Family members had ministers speak on their behalf about the fallen firemen and how much they were missed and not forgotten.
“When we got the call we were told that Kevin got hurt,” said David Nickell, Kenny’s father. “I told my wife I knew that either way he would be all right. He had accepted Christ as his savior and Lord and no matter what he would be all right.”
When David arrived on the scene he was given the worst news any parent could ever receive.
“They told me that Kenny had died. I had peace because I know that if there was anything between Kenny and God it got settled and forgiven before he died,” Nickell said. “I told my wife he would be all right because I knew where he was.”
Nickell said he and his wife had a choice when it came to accepting what happened to their son who was a husband and father, as well as a firefighter.
“I told my wife we could hate the fire department or adopt them,” he said. “Thank God we decided to adopt them.”
Nickell said he was grateful to the fire department and the community.
“This community and the Blevins boys Dowe and Danny were my rock,” Nickell said. “When something like this happens it hits you like a brick. They (Blevins and fire department) are a present help in time of need.”
Kenny’s parent’s pastor OD Rudd said Kenny’s parents asked him to speak about their son and have a word of prayer during the ceremony.
“We meet here today to remember a young man who departed this life too soon,” Rudd said. “You who knew and loved him can take comfort in your wonderful memories of Kenny Nickell.”
Rudd apologized to the family for not having known Kenny.
“I’m sorry I did not have the opportunity of knowing him,” Rudd said. “That was my loss. We ask God today to comfort each grieving heart and to give each one peace. We rest in the comfort of God’s word in Mathew 28:20 and it says I am with you always. May God bless and comfort each one of you.”
Pastor Carlos Bowman also spoke about Kenny.
“I have a poem that I brought for Kenna to read to you,” Bowman said as he held a book in his hand and motioned for Kenna to come forward.
Kenna was unsure if she could do it but with gentle coaxing from the minister and her family she took the book and read the poem called “Beyond the Sunset” by Virgil P. Brock:
“The ability to see "beyond the sunset"--to anticipate the glories of God's tomorrow--enables a Christian to live joyfully and victoriously in any of life's circumstances.
It is difficult for us to imagine heavenly scenes or to describe them with earthly symbols.
The Bible does promise us, however, that there will be "eternal joy" in the "glorious presence" of our Saviour "on that fair shore".
Kenna Nickell was 4 years old at the time of her father’s death.
“I still remember him,” Nickell said. “I really miss him.”
Kenna is going to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a firefighter.
“I’m finally at the age where I can be an Explorer,” she said. “I’m going to be a firefighter.”
Her mother Annette said she is proud of her daughter.
She said fears are always present when one has a family member serving as a firefighter. She added that Kenny would be proud of her too for making this decision.
Kevin Smith’s children Taylor Smith and Kevin Tyler Smith also were at the ceremony.
“I appreciate it,” Taylor Smith said. “I think it is awesome everyone came out to remember my father.”
“I’m happy everyone took the time to come up here,” Kevin Tyler Smith said.
Peggy Stacey, Kenny Nickell’s cousin, expressed her gratitude to the fire department.
“We’re thankful for the fire department and the guys who give their lives for others,” Stacey said. “They will forever be in our hearts.”
Curtis Fannin, a family friend of Kenny Nickell, commented on the gentlemen being remembered.
“Everyone thought the world of the boys,” Fannin said. “They gave their lives for us.”
Blevins said what he would say to the fallen heroes if he had the chance.
“If I could say anything it would be to thank them for their good work and for protecting others,” Blevins said. “They were professional. I know that from working with Kenny and Kevin. I am glad I was a part of their lives and for working with them.”
Blevins said he was pleased with the turnout and that this was the first time the ceremony was open to the public.
Kenneth Nickell served as a firefighter for seven years at his time of death and Kevin Smith was a recruit firefighter with two years’ experience.
Since the deaths of the two firefighters, a statewide training program for Wildand FireFighting was developed for structural firefighters. The Wildland Fire Fighting program looks at safety and fire control training.The course is mandated for Kentucky firefighters before being certified as a firefighter.
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04-07-2009, 02:47 PM #1
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Honoring the Island Fork Firefighters Lost 04-06-1999
Last edited by coldfront; 04-07-2009 at 02:54 PM.Always a day late and a dollar short!
04-07-2009, 04:39 PM #2
a statewide training program for Wildand FireFighting was developed for structural firefighters. The Wildland Fire Fighting program looks at safety and fire control training.The course is mandated for Kentucky firefighters before being certified as a firefighter.September 11th - Never Forget
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