Park City fire chief dies of injuries sustained in off-duty accident (updated)
Paul Hewitt remembered as a generous, kind, caring leader
Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt died Friday after being injured in a serious off-duty accident earlier in the week. | Courtesy of the Park City Fire District
Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt died Friday from injuries sustained in an off-duty accident earlier last week, the agency announced. He was 58.
Hewitt was critically injured July 19 in an incident involving an off-road vehicle while on vacation with his family, according to the district. He died at a hospital in Eugene, Oregon. No other details about the accident have been released.
A public memorial is planned for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Eccles Center.
When: Thursday, July 29, at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd.
Hewitt became the Park City fire chief in 2011 after two decades in the Salt Lake City Fire Department as well as a stint as a fire chief in Arizona. At the time of his hiring, he said the Park City post was his “dream job.”
Condolences poured in from neighboring public safety agencies, including the North Summit, South Summit and Wasatch fire districts, as well as local law enforcement. Members of the Salt Lake City Fire Department, Park City Police Department and Summit County Sheriff’s Office joined the Park City Fire District on Sunday in escorting Hewitt’s family from Salt Lake City to their home, where an honor guard met them.
In an interview shortly after Hewitt’s death, Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez remembered Hewitt’s leadership, sense of humor and care for others.
“It’s a cliche they say, he’d give you the shirt off his back. This is a man who truly would give the shirt off his back in the middle of a snowstorm. He’s that compassionate, that kind and that much of a leader,” Martinez said. “You don’t see men like this often. I know a lot of these things are cliche, (people might think) there’s no way he could be that good of a human being — Paul was that good of a human being.”
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher agreed, calling Hewitt “generous beyond measure.”
“He was always there to say, ‘If you need me to do more, I’m there,’” Fisher said. “Paul was always that person that said ‘What can I do to help the current situation?’”
Fisher said Hewitt was a trusted adviser and one of the first people he met when he started as county manager in 2015.
“It was very clear early on that people trusted him,” Fisher said. “People trusted his word.”
Martinez talked of Hewitt’s sense of humor, saying he was quick with a joke and would light up a room when he walked into it. Hewitt would not only ask how others were doing, Martinez said, but also ask about their families and what was going on with their lives. Hewitt gave the impression he truly cared for others.
Fisher indicated Hewitt exuded confidence in a way that carried over to the Fire District as a whole, assuring the community that the district was there to help and could solve the problem.
“It doesn’t hurt that he was a really good-looking guy,” Fisher said. “Just — he was rock solid. He was ‘firefighter.’ He was demonstrating to the community that the fire service, because if they follow me and the way I am and the way I do this job, that you’re going to be safe, that you can count on the district to do the service for the community.”
Both men touted Hewitt’s strength as a leader.
“He never took credit for something he didn’t own, and he always gave credit to those that deserved it,” Martinez said, adding that Hewitt was not satisfied to lead from behind a desk.
About once a month, Hewitt would take out a fire truck to make sure he remembered how it felt to be behind the wheel, Martinez said.
“He’d always try to stay connected to the people that try to do the job every day,” Martinez said. “… He came and picked me up from the Sheriff’s Office one day in a big red truck, said ‘Let’s go for a ride.’ I was like, ‘OK.’ He was telling me that’s how he tries to live as a leader: to lead by example. And he did.”
Hewitt was an avid runner and would run hundreds of miles on the area’s trails every year, as well as many marathons. According to a biography posted on the Fire District’s website, Hewitt had degrees in emergency services management, fire science, and design technology.
Fisher touted Hewitt’s decades of experience in fire management.
“He’s one of the people we rely on in our community to help us go through tough stuff,” Fisher said. “And when we lose somebody like that, we start to wonder, ‘Are we able to go through tough stuff?’ because he was so helpful in that.”
Fisher credited Hewitt with further professionalizing the district after he arrived a decade ago. He implemented a physical fitness test for firefighters, for example, an annual measure that set benchmarks for the physically demanding profession.
Fisher said the test also demonstrated Hewitt’s leadership style.
“One of the things that Paul was the real deal in: If he required the people in his organization do it, he was the first one to do it. Leadership by example,” Fisher said. “… He was the first one to take the physical fitness test each year for firefighters. He wanted to demonstrate to his organization that the top dude does it just like everybody else does it.”
Deputy Fire Chief Bob Zanetti, a department veteran, has been named interim chief, according to a Fire District spokesperson.
Fisher said that the district remains intact and well led, indicating the district’s organization is one of Hewitt’s legacies.
“Paul put all that in place in order to make sure the Park City Fire District would carry on beyond him,” Fisher said.
A statement posted on the Fire District’s Facebook page said Hewitt served the agency with “great dedication.”
“He set an example of true leadership and touched so many with his genuine personality and compassion for others,” the statement said. “He will be greatly missed by the Park City Fire Department family.”
Hewitt joined the Park City Rotary Club shortly after becoming fire chief and last month was named president-elect, according to a club spokesperson.
“He was instantly engaged in the club, leading service efforts and lending a smile to every service project in which he engaged (and there were many),” club spokesperson Tom Kelly said.
Hewitt also frequently participated in grueling stair-climb challenges with other firefighters to raise money for charity.
Martinez grew emotional when talking about Hewitt’s character. He hearkened back to the day Hewitt showed up at the Sheriff’s Office in a fire truck, indicating that image was emblematic of the man.
“I see a leader who’s the chief of the entire fire department being a kid again, with a big goofy smile, his hair on fire, behind the wheel in a big fire truck like it was his first day on the job,” Martinez said. “That’s the image I see of that man.”
— Park Record Editor Bubba Brown contributed to this article.
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A public hearing regarding Summit County’s $50 million open space bond is scheduled Wednesday in Coalville. Officials hope to hear from those who live on the East Side.