Missing a Mentor: What about Bob?

State Fire Instructor Robert E. Newell

State Fire Instructor Robert E. Newell

January 22, 2008


My close friend and associate Bob Newell passed away suddenly on Tuesday, January 22nd at his home.

Bob was a great educator, trainer, mentor and friend to literally thousands of firefighters in a firefighting and instructional career that spanned almost 40 years.

He started one of the first vehicle extrication training programs in Erie County several years ago, long before it was popular. It has since been modeled across the state. He did more for his Village of Hamburg Fire Department and our fire service than they or we will possibly ever realize.

To say Bob had a certain way about him is like saying water is “helpful” in putting out fires. You never had to wonder how Bob felt about a person or a subject. His honesty was at times cutting, equal only to his caring for others. You always knew where Bob stood on a matter. And, I loved him for that.

Bob Newell loved to teach and students loved to be taught by him, young and old, experienced and green. I don’t know of many fire service leaders in our area who never took a class from Bob Newell sometime in their career. His reach crossed county and state lines extensively.

He exuded pride in training his replacements and took great satisfaction in teaching new recruits. He didn’t just teach them how to be firefighters; he taught them how to be great firefighters.

In addition to all of the requisite skills, he taught them discipline and teamwork. He taught them to respect their officers, their peers and themselves. He taught them that leadership begins with being good followers.

He put them back in line when they stepped out, and he was never shy about offering a verbal kick in the pants where appropriate. He was also adept at applying a gentle nudge just at the right time to boost their confidence when they doubted their capabilities. He never allowed anyone to fail themselves.

He taught them about life in general, life as a firefighter and the importance of loving the job and all that it has to offer, good and bad.

At age 63 and just a few years into his retirement from the Federal Government, Bob was not one to slow down or cut back. He was always the one pushing us, always exploring new innovations and embracing new technologies and techniques. He was both old school and cutting edge at the same time.

His dedication to his family and the fire service were unmatched and his legacy will live on for years to come. Bob Newell was a good firefighter, a great instructor, a class act and a generous friend.

I talked to him just a few hours before his death. We exchanged the usual mutual harassment and made lunch plans. He ended the conversation by saying, “OK Wise Guy, I’ll see you on Friday.”

I said, “You’re buying and I’m eating,” which was how all of our lunches went. Bob never let anyone buy lunch, or dinner, or breakfast for that matter.

His brief contact left me with a smile. Later that evening, I experienced the privilege of being with his family and fire service family as we started the mourning and remembrance process, the way Bob would expect us to: together.

I was blessed with his confidence and his friendship. I will always be proud of my association with Bob Newell and I will miss him dearly.

There’s so much more I can say about this man but it’s been a long night and we have a long week to look forward to in planning his honors.

May God give him heaven. Rest in peace my brother. I’ll miss you “Newelldorf.”

If you knew Newell like I knew Newell… or even if you didn’t, leave a note at: http://buffalo.yourhub.com/~Tiger or if you’re a firefighter: http://www.firefighternation.com/profile/Rescue1530