Fallen Conn. firefighter mourned by family, colleagues

Firefighter Kevin Bell was remembered as a hero, role model, devoted husband and father and a talented musician and D.J.

The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. — At a candlelight vigil within a few hundred feet of Kevin Bell's home in Chappelle Gardens, the fallen Hartford firefighter was remembered Sunday night as a hero, a role model, a devoted husband and father, and a talented musician and D.J. known as "B-Stro."

"The whole of the North End belongs to Kevin," said Michael Holmes, a lifelong friend. "...They lost a real leader, a person who grew up here. This is where Kevin came from. He never left. He made enough money to move out. He stayed right here in this community. He died for the community."

Pastor A.J. Johnson said, "Kevin played such an instrumental role in my life... He said, 'A.J., you can be whatever you want to be... And to see how he went out of this world. He went out saving somebody's life."

About 250 friends, family, and firefighters gathered for an evening that began with a fried chicken dinner inside the Chappelle Gardens community center and then moved outside for the vigil. Many wore t-shirts with photos of Bell and the words, "Forever Our Brother," or buttons with his photo. A huge mobile billboard blinked photographs of him.

Bell, who was a six-year veteran of the fire department and served with Engine 16 at 636 Blue Hills Avenue, died Tuesday night as he fought a blaze at 598 Blue Hills Ave.

Hartford Fire Chief Carlos M. Huertas told the crowd that the community is now in "a healing process" and will need a lot of "support."

"I want you to know that everyday we put our lives on the line," Huertas said.

"We know that. We thank you every day for that," a voice in the crowd responded.

Huertas later said that Bell "died a hero in every sense of the word. He's been a hero his entire life, a good son, a good brother, a good husband, a good father. Just a great individual. A good friend, bigger than life, always positive, positive energy. He shared his love with his community

Huertas said he's been getting calls from fire fighters and departments all over the country. "They know that he gave the ultimate sacrifice," Huertas said.

A tearful Wayatte Stratham-Bell, Bell's wife, told the group, "I just want to say to each and everyone, thank you. I love you all and I'm just grateful."

The Bells' daughter, Racquel, then started the candle lighting, and Johnson led them in an emotional rendition of "His Eyes Are on the Sparrow," followed by a boisterous chanting of Bell's "D.J." nickname, "B-stro, B-stro, B-stro."

Bell's friends and family emphasized all of the different ways that Bell contributed to the community. "He was a basketball coach, a firefighter, a D.J. He always gave his time," Holmes said.

James Parks said the Bell was like an older brother, who "took me under his wing. He never brushed me off. He really pulled me into music."

Jack Lacilento said that he met Bell decades ago when they both entered a competition, Lacilento as a rapper and Bell as a D.J. "I wanted to link up with the best and he was the very best."

Bell became a firefighter, Lacilento said, because "he wanted to do well for his family. I'm very proud of him. I was always afraid for him, but he was in excellent shape. I remember he was in good shape but when he became a firefighter, he really was in excellent shape. He really hit the weights."

A fellow Hartford firefighter, Lt. Lionel Thompson Jr., talked about how Bell could have left the neighborhood. "They had the means to do it, but it's something like home being here, you understand?"

"He would never leave this neighborhood."

Thompson said that he and the rest of the community are going to be there for Bell's family after the funeral that is scheduled for Monday at 11 a.m. at First Cathedral Church.

"We are going to be here after Monday..." Thompson said. "We are going to be here for the family. We're going to make the best of the situation."

As people lingered after the vigil, Holmes said, "I'm just so glad everybody came out... We're just glad they showed their love. I can't believe how many people came from the fire department. I'm happy. I'm not leaving 'til the last person leaves."

First Cathedral Church is at 1151 Blue Hills Ave, Bloomfield. A calling hour is at 10 a.m. at the church. Burial will be at Mt. St. Benedict Cemetery, Bloomfield.

Copyright 2014 The Hartford Courant
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