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Firefighter dies in NC medical building blaze

July 28th, 2011 11:07 pm by Staff Report

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — An Asheville firefighter checking to see if anyone was left in a burning medical building died Thursday after becoming trapped in the blaze and another firefighter was injured, Fire Chief Scott Burnette said.

Fire Capt. Jeff Bowen, 37, was conducting a rescue operation with fellow firefighter Jay Bettencourt when they issued a mayday call over the radio. Other firefighters rescued the two men, but Bowen died a short time later at the hospital, Burnette said.

"A third of our life is spent on duty — our working life. Those bonds certainly get very strong and last for a long time," Burnette said. "Certainly, we were very good friends."

Bettencourt was listed in critical condition at a burn center in Augusta, Ga. Six other firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion and were treated locally, authorities said.

The fire began around 12:30 p.m. Thursday on the top floor of a five-story medical building near Mission Hospital in Asheville. The clinic houses an internal medicine practice that treats diseases ranging from cancer to diabetes. At least 200 people were inside. All of them got out safely, Burnette said.

Authorities have started an investigation into where the fire began and how it started, but have not reached any conclusions, the fire chief said.

Only a small part of the building away from the fire had sprinklers, and the devices weren't required by codes when the building was constructed, Burnette said.

The blaze was the first four-alarm fire in Asheville in at least 30 years. Sixty firefighters — a quarter of the department's force — responded, authorities said.

The fire chief remembered Bowen as one of the most dedicated firefighters in the department, but also a man generous with his time. He joined with Bettencourt to grow mustaches for charity around Christmas last year. He left behind a wife and three children.

"He came to work smiling," Burnette said. "He really loved fighting fires."

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