Hundreds gather to salute Summit firefighter who died in Copper Mountain condo fire
LITTLETON — Hundreds came out in support of fallen Summit County firefighter Ken Jones on Friday morning, as a seemingly endless procession of fire engines, police cars, motorcycles and more made its way through the streets of Littleton.
The procession, composed largely of fire and emergency service vehicles from across the state, made its way from the funeral home in Lakewood, where a group of firefighters stood in watch over Jones’ body, to the Waterstone Community Church in Littleton, where family, friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate his life.
As the solemn parade of red and blue lights wound its way through the area, residents and first responders gathered on the sides of the roads to watch it pass and to pay their respects.
“It was astoundingly moving,” said Steve Lipsher, a spokesperson for Summit Fire & EMS who rode in the procession. “We had entire schools that had their students lined up along the sidewalks with their hands over their hearts. We had hundreds of firefighters and paramedics and law enforcement in the procession but also hundreds along the path standing at attention and saluting as we went by. … Hundreds of bystanders stopped to take a moment and honor Ken as the procession was just passing.
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“It was all quite touching. … I don’t know if anyone could ever see that kind of outpouring of admiration and respect for one of our fallen friends and comrades without getting emotional about it.”
Jones died during the early morning of Dec. 7, after falling from a five-story building while fighting a fire near Copper Mountain Resort. Jones lived in Lakewood with his family and worked in Summit County, and his death has made an impact across the entire state, as exhibited by the flurry of support by other emergency workers who came to remember him and to stand in unity with his family.
“Firefighters tend to call each other brother and sister,” said Assistant Chief Jerry Rhodes with South Metro Fire Rescue. “Part of having the right to do that is being together in the good times and the bad times. Whether you knew Ken or not, this is an opportunity to be there, to take care of his family, and to support Summit Fire and their neighboring departments.”
Firefighters from around Colorado have been stepping up since Jones’ death in whatever capacities they can to lend a hand. While Summit Fire & EMS firefighters took some time to grieve and to attend the funeral, others arrived to help fill the gaps in service.
On Thursday and Friday, Summit County was being looked after with fire and medical crews from outside the area, including those from Clear Creek, Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Lake, Park, Pitkin and Routt counties and more.
Others offered to assist in other ways, such as standing watch over Jones’ body until the funeral. In firefighter tradition, it’s customary for two firefighters to stay with a fallen comrade’s body from the time of death until the funeral, a gesture meant to provide some solace to the family knowing their loved one is never alone, according to Rhodes.
Rhodes, who stood three watches himself, said firefighters from all over the state came to stay with Jones, and that many shifts were overbooked, with three or four firefighters wanting to volunteer. For those standing watch, it can be a therapeutic experience in which they get to focus their attention toward Jones and those who knew him.
“The first thing is you get a little quiet time to think about your brother,” Rhodes said. “It also gives you time to pray for not only your fallen brother but for his family. … Then it’s time to get into conversation. Firefighters love to tell stories and talk. It brings up folks that have passed before that you were close to, and we kind of balance that by saying a few funny things that hopefully would have brought a smile to Ken’s face.
“Really the sentiment is we’re there to support the Jones family. We’d ask the public, in their own special way, to do the same.”
So far, the public has risen to the challenge. Less than a week from the incident, community members already have made considerable efforts to provide some comfort to the Jones family.
The Summit Foundation set up a fund to help support the family, and so far more than $20,000 has been raised from individuals, businesses and local governments.
“It’s still coming in,” foundation Executive Director Jeanne Bistranin said. “People are just pouring their hearts out because that’s what Summit County is all about. Any time there’s a need here, people want to help each other. Everybody wants to give back, and it’s really amazing.”
Others are helping out on other ways, such as the High Country Training Center, which is currently collecting Christmas presents for Jones’ kids, or the Breckenridge Elementary students who visited the Summit Fire headquarters to drop off handmade cards.
But perhaps most notable is that Jones’ family won’t have to worry about their mortgage anymore thanks to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. The foundation, which provides financial assistance to families of first responders who lost a loved one in the line of duty, has agreed to assume the mortgage on the Jones family’s home.
“He dedicated 20 years of his life to protecting that community, and the people in it,” a Tunnel to Towers spokesman said. “He helped to save who knows how many lives. It’s our turn to step up and do something for him and his family.”
As Jones’ families at home and at the fire department continue to grieve, the efforts of the community to share their support and try to take some of the burden off those affected is certainly not lost on them.
“I was expecting a big show of support, but it exceeded even my expectations,” said Summit Fire Chief Jeff Berino, noting about 1,000 individuals attended the service. “The ceremony was packed. We told a few Ken stories, which was wonderful to share with everybody.
“We’re more than grateful for the out-of-county fire and ambulance folks that filled in for us. We’re going to try and get our lives back to normal. Some of the firefighters want to get back to their jobs. Part of their healing process is getting back up there and helping people. But being able to honor him today was huge.”
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