West Newbury Firefighters Keri and Kenny Fowler are shown in a photo taken for a 2008 calendar. Kenny, 37, recently suffered a massive heart attack and died.
Photo credit: Courtesy of West Newbury Fire Department
WEST NEWBURY, Mass.-- Surreal.
That's the only word Chief Rock Dower can use describe what happened at his fire station last week.
An official showed up to deliver 2008 calendars that featured two of his firefighters -- Kenny and Keri Fowler -- a husband-wife team.
What the delivery person didn't know was that hours earlier, Kenny, 37, had suffered a massive heart attack and died.
"It was unreal," the chief said. "And, guess what month they are featured on -- December."
When the organization honoring hometown heroes came to him months ago asking for a suggestion, Dower said he instantly knew his selection. "I told them we had a really dedicated husband-wife team."
Dower said the sudden death has left the entire community in shock. "This town got together like I've never seen."
Kenny, a lieutenant in the fire department, was the one everyone could depend on. "He was our go-to guy. You never had to ask him, he was always there. He always had a smile..."
Last Tuesday, the Fowlers attended their twice weekly firefighting class. Both felt a little punk, and figured they were coming down with the flu.
On Thursday morning, Fowler called in sick at his job. Shortly thereafter, he collapsed at home. The call to his house was the first for the department this month.
A critical incident stress team from Boston has been offering counseling to firefighters, including those who were taking classes with the couple.
On Thursday, the class continued as planned. "Kenny would have wanted it that way," the chief said.
They left a space where he should have been standing in formation, and when they called his class number -- 76 -- his wife answered: "Present in spirit, sir."
The two still considered themselves newlyweds although they tied the knot more than two years ago. "They were known to steal a quick kiss during breaks at class or a wink," the chief said, struggling to keep his emotions in check. "They were always together."
Shortly after her husband died, Keri showed up at the firehouse. "We're family here. She felt at home here. I think the family and community learned about the brother and sisterhood of the fire service over the last few days."