Family, friends celebrate ‘Sammy’ Cowan’s career

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 25, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Deputy Fire Chief Simon W. Cowan caused tears to well up in the eyes of most of the women and quite a few stalwart firefighters and friends Thursday night as he explained why he was retiring after 35 years in his beloved fire service.

&uot;They asked me to stay another five years,&uot; he said. &uot;But, I told Chief (Mark) Outlaw that if they could promise me that Cindy would never be alone again when she needed me I would stay. Of course, they couldn’t do that so it is with regret that I take my retirement.&uot;

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Cindy is Cowan’s sweetheart and wife, and the chief was speaking of an accident in which she was seriously injured last fall. He has been even closer than ever since that terrible day. However, he has no regrets about serving as a firefighter for the citizens of Suffolk. His career began March 1, 1968.

&uot;Sure, I’ve missed out on a great deal with my family and friends,&uot; he said. &uot;Birthday parties and other events, but I wouldn’t change a thing and I want to thank Cindy for her understanding all these years, and my children for their love.&uot;

Cowan is not only loved by his family, but also by the people he’s worked with over the years. Fire chiefs and firemen from across Hampton Roads who came to celebrate Cowan’s extensive career proved that fact.

Following a dinner in his honor, Cowan’s professional life was laid bare by men he’d mentored by those he’d instructed at the Public Safety Academy and by his chief.

Outlaw noted that Cowan was promoted to lieutenant in 1975, and took his first command, Engine Company 4, only one year later. He was promoted to captain and moved to Company 2, and for the next nine years served the Downtown District as a frontline company officer.

It was retired Fire Chief J. Samuel Carter who recognized Cowan’s leadership abilities and he promoted him to assistant chief in 1985. He served in that capacity for another nine years.

As Outlaw said, in 1994, Suffolk Fire Department began a transition of becoming one of the state’s premiere public safety departments. While some thought it couldn’t happen, this city’s fire departments have made that transition, said Outlaw.

He said it takes a devoted staff, dedication and commitment as well as talented people and good leadership, all qualities possessed by Cowan.

In July that year, Cowan was appointed by Outlaw as deputy chief of operations, overseeing fire activities, training, and personnel matters.

&uot;Deputy Chief Cowan helped plot a new path for our organization,&uot; said Outlaw. &uot;It was a progressive path of new ideas, programs and visions to improve the quality of life, health and safety of our community.&uot;

In fact, it was Cowan who brought the first child safety seat program to citizens of the Hampton Roads region. The chief also served as an executive officer for the Southside Regional Fire Academy Council, and a member of the local emergency planning committee.

He was the health and safety officer for the department, and served as Suffolk’s hazardous materials coordinator.

Cowan is responsible for the training of many of the region’s firefighters having taught many fire and safety classes in Hampton Roads as well as across the state.

Outlaw continued: Cowan took seriously his commitment to serve citizens of Suffolk with pride and professionalism, and he learned his craft and passed it along to others.

&uot;Well, Sammy, your commitments have been fulfilled over the past 35 years, and Suffolk Fire and Rescue is a better organization for it,&uot; said Outlaw. &uot;Your knowledge and wit will be difficult to replace… I leave you with this; you did make a difference in your department, in the lives of many people, and you will always be a loyal member of our family.&uot;

There were many others who spoke with glowing, sometimes toasting, remarks of Cowan, including the recently retired Police Major Richard Hurd. The major explained that he and his good friend have shared many wonderful times together including Cowan’s first airplane flight.

&uot;It was the one time that Sammy was without words,&uot; said Hurd, a 30-year veteran of the Suffolk Police Department.

After all the laughter and tears, he was asked to come forward to accept an award to commemorate his years of undying loyal and devoted service.

Outlaw and Deputy Chief Ed Taylor presented Cowan with one of the most recognized working tools of the firefighter; a pick-head axe.

As Outlaw said, the special axe is crafted with a solid hardwood handle and bronze head to depict the strength, leadership and respect that chief officers exhibit to their firefighters.

&uot;Deputy Chief Cowan, you have routinely displayed these same qualities over your career,&uot; said Outlaw as he held the axe for all to see. &uot;Your strength and leadership and your support of firefighter training over the past 35 years will not be forgotten.&uot;

The axe is engraved with Cowan’s name and dates of service; 1968-2003, and the head bears the honored symbol of firefighters; the Maltese Cross. Etched in the ribbons of the cross is &uot;Suffolk Fire and Rescue.&uot;

As Cowan accepted the award, applause echoed across the Planter’s Club as people stood up in respect.