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Firefighting family makes heroic history — together

Posted at 11:00 PM, Feb 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-19 23:16:59-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Lt. Charles "Buzzy" Stowell grew up watching his father, Charles "Shorty" Stowell,  be one of the best and bravest firefighters in Hampton, Virginia.

"I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning," Buzzy said. "He's sitting there at the table, got bandages all on his hands and his ears where he got burnt."

Shorty died of a heart attack on his way to work, three months before he was going to retire. Charles "Shorty" Stowell was 57 years old.

"I started volunteering at the same station in 1970," Buzzy said. "Sixteen years old.  Once you get into the fire service, it's in your blood."

Three of Buzzy's boys followed in the family footsteps and become firefighters. The fourth might too, once he's done jumping out of airplanes for the 82nd Airborne.  Two of his sons, Chip and Chris, are doing something Buzzy would have loved; working with their dad. All three fight fires with the Richmond Fire Department.

"I remember going to play pool back of the fire station." Chris recalled as a memory from his youth.

"Yeah, and we were always trying to slide down the pole and Dad's yelling at us," Chip laughed.

Like Buzzy watched his father, the two boys watched Buzzy and other Stowell men risk their lives.

"Uncles, cousins; fire department runs deep in our family," Chris said.

"I had a cousin that worked for the Newport News Fire Department.  Got killed in 1970.  Wall collapse," Buzzy said.

Chip works at a station in Church Hill. His younger brother works out of Station #22 on Richmond's Southside.

They are brothers, so you know there's trash-talking.

"It's fun to talk junk about who runs more calls, who has better calls," Chip said.

There's also concern, especially when they know the other is responding to a dangerous call.  That's when they listen closely to the scanners to hear what's happening on the scene.

Chip remembers listening to the firefighter scanner traffic during a recent fire Chris was helping to put out.

"You're always wondering what's going on, because you don't know what kind of situations they're in.  So, you worry a little bit," he said.

While Buzzy knew his sons had firefighting in their blood, his good friend Keith Andes, a retired firefighter himself who is now president of the local union, was certain his daughter Kellie was going to be a nurse. That is until the day she knocked on his office door.

"We're just chit-chattin' there," Andes said.  "She took a big ol' breath and she said, 'Dad, I know what I want to do in my life'.   And I said 'What's that?'"

"I want to be a firefighter," Kellie remembered saying.  "I want to follow in your footsteps."

"It blew me away," Andes said. "I just said, 'A firefighter?' And she said 'Yeah'. "

"I think I shocked my mother more than my father," Kellie said. "Because she was like, 'Oh no, now I have two.'"

It was soon after that Kellie and Keith became the first father/daughter to work for the Richmond Fire Department in its 158 year history.

Family means a lot to a firefighter.

Chris is reminded of his family every time he opens his locker. That's where he's taped a picture of his wife, Kellie Stowell.   She used to be Kellie Andes; yes, the Kellie you just read about; Keith Andes' daughter.

You see, she and Chris have been married for the past eight years and they work together at Station #22.  Together, but on different shifts.  Someone has to be home to take care of their two kids.

"I have a little family in here," Kellie said, "but I have a big family in this department."

An entire family of Stowells working for the Richmond Fire Department.  Buzzy is hoping this is just the beginning.

"I'm hoping my grand kids follow in our footsteps, yes sir!"

Stowell family