Off-duty battalion chief killed in motorcycle crash

Chief William "Billy" Kocur was described as a man with a rough exterior and a giant heart

By Carlos R. Munoz
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — The Sarasota County firefighters who served with Battalion Chief William "Billy" Kocur described a man with a rough exterior and a giant heart before the tolling of three bells rang for his Last Alarm.

Dispatchers called out three times over the air Sunday to Kocur who died in a motorcycle accident. The announcement played inside the Sahib Shrine Hall was emotionally jarring for even the most steady firefighters.

"Battalion Chief Kocur to dispatch ... Battalion Chief Kocur to dispatch ... Battalion Chief Kocur to dispatch," said the dispatcher to silence, before announcing the passing of Kocur and reading an Irish blessing to all listening units. "The Bell has been struck for his last alarm. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, ... May God hold you in the palm of His hand until we meet again. Dispatch Out."

Fire Chief Michael Regnier said the death of the 63-year-old chief who had served the county for 25 years shook the fire department to the core.

According to reports, Kocur disappeared after he left Oct. 11 to visit his family's cabin in Georgia. His body was recovered Oct. 15 after a search that included firefighters from Sarasota.

The cause of the accident is under investigation.

Regnier said there was nothing he could say that would be greater than the tribute the hundreds of firefighters paid Sunday afternoon through their attendance.

"Chief Kocur had an effect on everyone who knew him both inside and outside the fire department," said Regnier as a slideshow of Kocur's life were displayed on a screen behind him. "All of us remember his conviction and unwavering dedication to this fire department and the fire department all together.

"Chief Kocur was a fire instructor who took his job seriously — he wanted nothing more but to make great firefighters."

In the front row, was Kocur's family: his wife Heidi, daughter Hally, his son Garret, and his granddaughter. They were flanked by hundreds of friends, firefighters, paramedics, and motorcycle riders from throughout the state.

Regnier said Kocur never wavered in spirit and tenacity and was at ease when he heard "Bill" over the radio because he knew things were taken care of.

Regnier said the fire department was a family who turned out to honor their fallen "brother."

"There's no place to sit — there's no place to stand — that's fantastic," Regnier said. "That's a tribute to Bill Kocur."

Battalion Chief James Byrd said he is struggling to get used to the idea that he will no longer see his friend at shift change.

"Billy and I solved the world's problems in Battalion No. 3's office," Byrd said. "Every problem in the world — from the Middle East to wherever — we solved them."

Kocur and Byrd taught at the fire academy together and he called Kocur a "traditionalist."

Byrd, and many others mentioned Kocur's signature mustache and long hair.

Retired firefighter Jerry Jensen compared Kocur to a carnival worker.

"In his early days he was known as 'Fun House Bill,' true story," Jensen said.

The two hardy firemen joined the fire department together at age 36 in Manatee County.

Kocur began his career in the fire service with the City of Bradenton.

"To say Billy was headstrong would be an understatement," Jensen said. "A pit bull with a rag in its mouth would give up sooner than Billy.

"You could count on him to get the job done."

Jensen said he would miss his friend and a fellow "warrior." He asked those in uniform to take a knee to honor him.

"Today we kneel for his family and our brothers and sisters who got the pleasure of working with him," Jensen said. "Tomorrow we stand and we fight for him."

The ceremony was followed by a "Celebration of Life" for Kocur's family and friends.

Copyright 2017 Sarasota Herald-Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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