Park City’s late fire chief remembered at memorial
Paul Hewitt’s desire to help others, larger-than-life presence recalled
A lone bagpiper led a procession of firefighters down an aisle of the Eccles Center Thursday evening, fireaxes gleaming and the audience on its feet as an honor guard escorted the family of the late Park City Fire Chief Paul Hewitt, who died last week after an off-duty accident.
Hewitt’s memorial service featured heartfelt testimonials from his family, colleagues and friends, each of whom extolled the chief’s largeness of spirit, improbable feats and expressions of love.
The accolades at times seemed impossible: the 15 or more marathons he’d run already this year at the age of 58, the bonfires he’d light in the middle of rivers during camping trips, the number of lives he touched with his desire and ability to help.
He was remembered as empathetic, loving, driven and capable. Hundreds were in the audience, including many local government officials and scores who wore the dress uniforms of public safety agencies.
His best friend Randy Oveson credited him with saving his life by showing up at Oveson’s house at 5:30 a.m. for daily hikes to help him lose weight. Early on, when Oveson wanted to quit, Hewitt asked him to step on a scale.
“The weight difference between us was 80 pounds,’” Oveson said. “Paul said, ‘Tomorrow, I’m going to show up with an 80-pound pack and we’re going to go hiking.’ How do you say no to someone who’s willing to do that for you?”
Oveson credited Hewitt’s help for his ability to withstand a heart attack Oveson suffered years later.
“When I say that Paul saved my life, I truly mean that Paul saved my life,” he said.
Oveson spoke at a podium on the Eccles Center stage opposite a portrait of Hewitt that shared a spotlight with the fallen chief’s fire suit, the words “PCFD” and “Hewitt” emblazoned in bright green on the tan canvas uniform.
Hewitt died July 23, three days shy of his 59th birthday, from injuries sustained in an off-road-vehicle accident while on vacation with his family in Oregon.
He had led the Park City Fire District since 2011, a post he called his dream job, and one that came after two decades with the Salt Lake City Fire District and a year as a fire chief in Arizona.
Oveson said Hewitt was always at or near the top of his classes in college and received multiple degrees from what is now Utah Valley University, including in computer-assisted design and fire-safety related courses.
He recalled Hewitt’s relentless energy and drive.
“At his core, Paul could not sit still if there was something that needed improvement, that’s just who he was,” Oveson said. “ … Everything he turned his attention to, he improved.”
Alec Hewitt, Paul Hewitt’s son, described another side of his dad, identifying himself as an introvert and saying his father bonded with him during quiet moments on a porch observing nature or simply by coexisting in silence.
Battalion Chief Peter Emery described Hewitt’s physical feats and their rim-to-rim Grand Canyon runs that somehow lengthened each year. But he said Hewitt’s best days were when he’d return to work covered in grease, beaming because he’d been able to help change someone’s tire.
“If Paul ever helped you, he somehow made it feel like you were doing him a favor,” Emery said.
A photo montage showed Hewitt spending time outdoors, much of it apparently with loved ones and children. His daughter Rachelle Hewitt-Oteo told of the rope swings, zip lines and other apparatuses Hewitt would rig on camping trips for kids to play with.
She remembered her dad warming stones by the fire to wrap in towels and put in sleeping bags, braiding her hair when she was too young to do it herself and always being able to fix her car.
“He was our Superman,” she said.
Hewitt’s fiance Kelly Trang told of a whirlwind, 10-month romance, true love that found them both late in life. They knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together after one month, Trang said, and Hewitt proposed after five months.
“We were supposed to grow old together,” she said.
At the end of the ceremony, firefighters folded an American flag in silence and presented it to Trang, Hewitt’s helmet going to his son, Alec.
Then a fire bell tolled three times, ringing until silenced by the white-gloved hand of a firefighter. A summons for the chief sounded over a radio, then again, three final calls he could not answer. His fellow firefighters said his task was now done, and done well.
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