Northeast Johnson County firefighters will be out in force this weekend to honor the memory of Jim Bell, who died Feb. 17 after a skiing accident in Colorado.
Members of Consolidated Fire District No. 2 will assist in Bell’s funeral with an honor guard at the service Saturday and a small procession of trucks to the burial site, said Chief Tony Lopez. They’ve also set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Bell’s family.
Bell’s death at age 44 was a shock to fire and support workers who knew him as an avid athlete and outdoorsman, Lopez said. He reportedly suffered a head injury Feb. 13 while on vacation with his family in Crested Butte, Colo. After a few days on life support in Grand Junction, the Olathe firefighter succumbed.
His funeral is set for this Saturday,at 10 a.m. at Westside Family Church, 8500 Woodsonia Drive in Lenexa. Visitation is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at the same location.
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Bell was a 16-year veteran of the force who was specially trained in rescues that involve heavy equipment, such as trench and building collapse, Lopez said. He was well known around the station as an outdoor enthusiast who enjoyed skiing and mountain biking.
“He was full of life and he was a bull of a man,” Lopez said. “He was just a can-do kind of guy. We’re having a hard time getting our arms around that this happened.”
Bell leaves behind a wife, Courtney and two grade-school-aged boys.
Colleague and friend James Hansen said he’ll remember Bell especially for the love he had for his children. Bell would walk them to school and make arrangements to be home in the after school hours to go biking with them when possible.
Hansen and Bell joined the fire district at about the same time. He remembers Bell as outgoing – so much so that Bell’s wife dubbed him the “mayor” of the Stonebridge subdivision where they lived, Hansen said. “He invited myself and the kids over and we couldn’t get five feet without him stopping and talking to somebody,” Hansen said.
Hansen went mountain biking on local trails with Bell and remembers him as an avid hunter who taught gun safety to his kids. He was safety conscious and always wore helmets when doing activities like biking and motorcycling, Hansen said.
“He was a wild man but still took the necessary safety precautions,” he said.
Bell was also an assistant wrestling coach for all grade levels at Blue Valley Northwest High School from 2008 to 2013.
Bell leaves a lasting impact on Hansen’s life in another way, he said. Shortly after they were hired, confusion over which was Jim and which was James ended in Hansen getting the permanent nickname “Junior.”
Bell was among the firefighters deployed to Greensburg, Kan, after the 2007 tornado that destroyed that town. The district shared a photo of him on its Facebook page after he came across a “Save Bell” sign left in the wreckage of a church.
Bell’s friends at the district have set up a fundraising page to help pay for his sons educations. The page, at https://www.gofundme.com/jimandcourtneybell, raised about $12,000 in its first two days. For those who don’t want to donate online, an account is being established at the Mainstreet Credit Union in Olathe.
There’s been an outpouring of support, especially from law enforcement and fellow firefighters since Bell’s death made the news, Lopez said.
“It’s been almost overwhelming,” he said. Many of the offers were to fill in for CFD No. 2 personnel during the service.