Remembering Lt. Charles Donald Bowden, 86, 25-year Myrtle Grove volunteer firefighter who kept his men safe

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Fire is a destructive beast that consumes everything in its path without discrimination. It takes a brave, admirable person to willingly put their life on the line to fight the flames–even more so when they volunteer for this duty.

That’s exactly how others remember Lt. Charles Donald Bowden.

Lt. Bowden, of Live Oak, Florida, and formerly of Wilmington, died July 20, 2015, at Advent Christian Village in Dowling Park, Florida. He was 86.

For over 25 years, Lt. Bowden served as a firefighter for the Myrtle Grove Volunteer Fire Department, Station 300. What many aren’t aware of is just how much time a volunteer firefighter gives to their community, according to Station 300’s former chief, Wilbur Davis.

In addition to putting out fires, Chief Davis said firefighters had to attend weekly meetings, clean up the equipment after a fire to ensure it was ready to go for the next one and on the weekends, there was always a volunteer at the station to take calls as well. The station calls were implemented later, though. Before that, it was a home-call system.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a lady in Monkey Junction who citizens would call in case of fire–not 911, said Chief Davis. She called the volunteers, some of whom went to get the truck and equipment and the others met them at the scene, ready to go.

Then, in the late 1970s, Chief Davis said all the home phones listed for the volunteers would ring simultaneously with a specific sound, different from normal calls, with a message stating where to go. It was years after Lt. Bowden joined Station 300 before dialing 911 for a fire emergency was implemented in the area. No matter how the call came through, though, Lt. Bowden was extremely dedicated to answering it.

“He was usually the first one there,” Chief Davis said. “He lived next door to the fire house and if he was home, he would respond.”

Volunteering during this time was different than it is now, according to Chief Davis. When Lt. Bowden first started volunteering, there were no breathing apparatuses other than an old model attached to the fire truck in a heavy box that was “almost a sin to take off the truck.” The firefighters only took it off in life-or-death scenarios, especially because replenishing the air required taking it to the city of Wilmington to be filled.

Chief Davis said Lt. Bowden and the other volunteers would grab the hose and “do their best.” Lt. Bowden entered burning buildings with his head down and held his breath. Then he’d come out “spitting and coughing” while trying to get fresh air back into his lungs.

Lt. Bowden enjoyed his volunteer work, though; he was raised in the area and loved both the community and the people who lived there, said Chief Davis. It was why he chose to volunteer, to keep the community safe and protect the people and buildings within it.

When Lt. Bowden was given his rank as lieutenant, he took on even more responsibilities, Chief Davis said. In addition to administration duties such as keeping track of lists of who was on phone duty that weekend, Lt. Bowden also taught new volunteers what to do in case of a fire.

This included Chief Davis, who joined after Lt. Bowden. He taught Chief Davis how to handle calls, lock down a building and drive the truck, and remembering the first time Lt. Bowden sent him on a call alone, Chief Davis laughed at how scared he was, the fire truck shaking as he drove.

Being lieutenant also meant that he focused on what Chief Davis called “situational awareness.” He helped direct and control the men he volunteered with during a fire, showing them where to focus the water hose and getting them out of a burning building if it was too hazardous.

Lt. Bowden focused on his men the way he focused on his community: he kept them safe.

Lt. Bowden was born on Dec. 19, 1928, in Wilmington, son of the late Charles Lee Bowden and Winnie Sanders Bowden and was preceded in death by three sisters and one brother.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Joyce McLawhorn Bowden; son, Charles D. Bowden Jr. (Carol); stepson, James Humbles (Rosemary); stepdaughter, Peggy Southerland (Robert); grandchildren, Keri Hilliard, Jennifer Page, Kristin Bowden, Bobby Southerland and Todd Southerland; step-grandson, Bobby Padavich Jr. (Laura); and nine great-grandchildren.

The family received friends July 24, 2015, at Andrews Mortuary Valley Chapel. Funeral services were at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 25, 2015, at United Advent Christian Church. Burial will follow at Greenlawn Memorial Park.

In lieu of flowers memorial donations can be made to United Advent Christian Church.

Please leave online condolences for the family at Andrews Mortuary.

To view the full list of Port City Daily obituaries, click here.

Amanda Thames is the obituary writer for Port City Daily. Reach her at 910-772-6319 or obits@portcitydaily.com.