Sunday, February 15, 2004

Firefighters mourn shooting death of colleague

Lexington man charged with murder in her death, his wife's killing

By Ellen R. Stapleton
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Lexington firefighters mourned the shooting death of a colleague Saturday and pondered the unexpected threats they face on the job.

Brenda Cowan, the first black female firefighter to join the Lexington Fire Department, was shot Friday after responding to a shooting at a home.

"You always know there's a danger there," Lexington firefighter Vicki Herald said during a break at a station Saturday afternoon. "But you expect a fire department fatality to relate to a fire incident, not a shooting. She shouldn't have died that way."

Cowan and five other firefighters reached the scene of the shooting before police. When they approached the home, Cowan and another firefighter, Jim Sandford, were shot. Sandford was treated and released from the University of Kentucky Hospital on Saturday.

"You're not ever thinking someone's going to harm you," said firefighter Keith Powell, who attended the same Baptist church as Cowan. "You're the good guy. You're taught to render aid to those who call for help."

Assistant Fire Chief Roger Holland said authorities will conduct an internal investigation into the incident. Fire officials declined further comment Saturday, saying it was a day for mourning.

"We have protocols for each situation," Holland said. "After we're through with the investigation, we will find out whether protocol was breached."

Patrick Hutchinson, 45, of Lexington, was charged with killing Cowan and his wife in what led to a 61/2 -hour standoff at 8645 Adams Lane.

The initial victim, Elizabeth Fontaine Hutchinson, 60, died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Fayette County coroner's office. The Hutchinsons were married, police said.

Patrick Hutchinson eventually surrendered to police on Friday night. Lexington police charged him with two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and first-degree assault. Hutchinson remained in the Fayette County Detention Center on Saturday.

Cowan, 40, was a 12-year veteran of the department and had recently been promoted to lieutenant.

She came from a family with strong ties to her faith. Her father and one of her brothers are preachers, and she served in several of her church's ministries, said her pastor, the Rev. Richard Gaines of Consolidated Baptist Church in Lexington.

Despite the risk that entailed her job, Cowan's family supported her.

"Brenda died (doing) what she loved doing," Gaines said. "Nobody expected what happened to happen. The family is no less supportive of what she did."

Firefighter Frederick Cotton, who entered the force with Cowan in 1992, said she was an "angel on earth."

"Knowing Brenda, if she would have it to do again, she would have," Cotton said.

Gaines said a funeral will be held for Cowan at noon Wednesday at Consolidated Baptist Church.

A third firefighter and a police officer also suffered minor injuries in Friday's incident, neither from gunfire, said Lexington police chief Anthany Beatty.

In nearby Frankfort, where firefighters also double as emergency medical workers, the department has a policy that no one gets out of the vehicle until law enforcement has secured the scene. Daniel Shouse, a firefighter who is also a spokesman for the department, said ambulance crews also have bulletproof vests available to them.

"There are going to be times when you are first on the scene," said Shouse, a Frankfort firefighter for 13 years. "We will not leave our vehicles" until police say it's safe.

In recent weeks, the department also has started three or four of its medics training with a police tactical response unit.

"It's trying to train for the worst case scenario," he said. Shouse said a unit like the one in training could be used in a situation like the one in Lexington.

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