Lt. Lew Kitts’ Last Alarm
Lew Kitts was the ultimate guy who knew a guy. He was a behind the scenes fireman on Jamestown with a thousand stories and a past begging for paper and pen. His daily nature was charity, although he would deny he did anything special or any help for himself. From the Jamestown schools to the island fire department to someone just needing an affordable place to live, Lew Kitts gave and gave, living a life of casual humbleness. All of us have lost firefighter Lew Kitts, a Jamestown, RI icon who gave to everyone. This week we honor Lt. Lew Kitts’ Last Alarm.
One difficult element of life is understanding just how long people we love and admire will be with us. When we’re young, everyone is old and will surely live forever because we have no developed or tarnished senses of perspective. As we age, we learn to appreciate and respect but in the absence of maturity, we meet and live with folks, expecting their continued presence in our lives. Then life develops a patina and good people in our daily lives vanish. It’s part of being human but it hurts and the time is never right.
Lew’s early life was complicated. He was never really sure about his birth date or his last name. What he took from some tough early years was a view of how the world should operate. A forty year member, Lt. Lew Kitts loved his Jamestown fire department, his trucks and his people. He loved the lights and glass doors, the museum and his restored 1947 fire truck he rescued from Block Island. He did her proud. Back in 2016, I wrote about Lew and his truck. In 2010, the Block Island Fire Department sold Engine 2, their 1947 Dodge fire truck to the Jamestown Fire Department Museum. Parked and out of service for years, it was in disrepair and desperate need of a full restoration. Jamestown’s former chief, Bob Bryer put up the asking price of a single dollar bill and Firefighter Lew Kitts got to work. For five years, Lew invested his personal time and money to restore it to a working fire engine; now it’s operational, pumping 250 gallons per minute, shining with new paint and lettering. Every two weeks, Lew steers the four speed, flat head six cylinder from the open cab down to Beavertail Light, even right through the winter. Now just awaiting the perfect new brass bell, Engine 2 is ready for a parade. Lew could get it then be the first man to rush into a fire because that’s what he did. Lew answered 6755 runs and 2000 trainings.
He worked for 25 years at the Jamestown School Department and was proud of how he kept so many children safe and in return, the children loved him right back. Back in 2018, I wrote about Lew when a friend of mine had a son struggling with cancer. “I reached out to Lew. “Can you spare two tickets?” I asked. With just one text, Jamestown firefighter, die hard Red Sox fan and all around most amazing guy, Lew Kitts, offered four tickets to a home game. He’s a season ticket holder who lives and breathes The Sox. He also doesn’t know the Littlefield family. “I’ll drop off a set of four. Will Power,” he wrote in a moment. Will Power was a loving reference to his own son, William Kitts, who left us all far too soon.
Lt. Kitts Loved His Red Sox
Lew Kitts loved his Boston Red Sox. He was a season ticket holder and I guarantee he gave away more tickets to games than he attended and he went to ALOT of Red Sox games. My son got to stand at home plate, with his picture and number on the giant screen to swing through a dozen pitches because Lew took time out of his life to take us to Fenway Park and make it happen. That was Lew. His Red Sox tattoo on his right hand was a daily reminder of that love and a greeting when shaking hands with another Sox fan. Lew was also a member of the Royal Rooters Club, of which he was very proud. Lew would gather the crew, rent a van and bring everyone up to Boston to share all he had and loved. Again, that was Lew Kitts.
For decades, many relied on him for a rental, a dryer (What do you need? White, ivory, new, used, sort of used?) or a car (Let’s go talk to The Greek). Chain link fence, a dishwasher? He had a guy. Many years ago, I was building a table for my young son and couldn’t find a piece of butcher block to fit. One call to Lew and I had a two-foot by two-foot piece of butcher block a few days later because he had a guy. Lew loved helping and giving. Lew made many good things happen. Lew knew everyone on Jamestown and had important treasures stashed here and there. “How much? No, no money, thank you.” After a few fruitless nights trying to break up an ancient cast iron tub, I finally called Lew. “I got a guy named Billy and he knows just where to hit it. It’s gonna cost you a six pack and we’ll be there in an hour.” Some people give until it hurts, but for Lew, it never hurt. For several winters, I stored my pretty antique wood canoe in crooked, mostly dry Jamestown garage, because Lew had a place of course, with mice and a tired wood roof and lots of bayberries creeping their way in for a look. Doors were secured with a grey padlock that didn’t lock. Each Spring I would return to take her home from her fancy winter confines then I would sit with Lew and his deceased son Will’s dog, Meatloaf, to catch up on a crushed stone driveway in sight of the Atlantic. I would bring Lew a bottle of something Irish and strong and the world would be in balance. Lew Kitts kept many lives in balance. Lew’s love, Judy Hareld, will love and feed Meatloaf now, who appreciates the occasional warm rotisserie chicken, while Lew goes looking for Will.
“I’m gone from you all but I found my son Will,” I can hear him saying. “What a character. I lost him too soon, but I sure did see him every time I stuck a Will Power sticker at Fenway. Just like you all did. I can see them all now, all over the world. I heard some pretty, young ladies laughing and that’s where I found him. What a character.”
Lt. Lewis Kitts’ Last Alarm funeral was a fine tribute. With respect to those we have lost, who showed us grace, patience, kindness and wisdom, we have known folks and family who were part of our lives and then we laid them to rest. Lew Kitts was more than that to me, more now in reflection, because he was so omnipresent for many. I am struggling to understand an island, a circle of friends, a community without him. Of course Lew would be here forever; he was a thread through many lives and generations. I took it for granted he would always be here. My last text with Lew was about fishing, of course. He answered me with a thumbs up and mustache emoji. Classic Lew. Understated as always.
On December 30, 2023, the Jamestown Fire Department afforded 73 year old Lewis W. Kitts a fine and respectful sendoff. Lew received the honors he deserved as Narragansett Avenue was closed while mourners wept and smiled through shared stories in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. Firefighters marched in silence, in dress uniforms Lew was responsible for purchasing years ago, bringing his American flag draped casket down the center aisle. With mesmerizing slow salutes, multiple times they stood for him, and wiped away tears with white gloves. Standing in order, they offered a fitting tribute to one of their own, a last call alarm. Lew and his Engine 3 helmet were laid carefully in the back of his old ’47 and driven east towards Cedar Cemetery for a final island tour.
As the Last Alarm funeral procession crept past the Narragansett Cafe, one man stood out front, hand over his heart. A friend of Lew’s? A customer who understood respect for the fallen? Either might have been true but there he stood, offering his moments of tribute. Passing Potter Cove, a Newport Fire Department Marine 6 boat saluted Lt. Lew Kitts’ Last Alarm with a high water fire hose tribute to one of their brothers. It was wonderful. Behind that slow ’47 Dodge, friends arrived at Cedar Cemetery for one last farewell. Final prayers and tears were offered. His flag was folded tightly a final time and presented to Judy.
Near his end, Lew sat in the hospital with friends, nurses and doctors. Logan Brich was also there and he asked Lew a few questions, about his life. In Lew Kitt’s own words: “There have been plenty of challenges, plenty of fuck-ups. But at the end of the day, I ask myself, ‘Would I do it all again the same way?’ And every day the answer is the same- you bet your sweet ass. I’ve had a good life, I have a good life.”
Lew Kitts gave because he believed that’s the way the world should operate. Can you imagine? Once, I asked Lew if there was anyone he hadn’t helped. “I hope not,” he said. Rest in peace my dear friend.