“By the time we came out to the front living area we could see flames, and our neighbor was banging on the door saying, ‘Get out of the house, your house is on fire,’” she said.
The Bowmans grabbed their cats, got out, and stood in the driveway while the Beavercreek Twp. Fire Department got to work saving their home.
The fire department chaplain stood with them throughout the process, explaining what each of the firefighters was doing and why, which was a “calming influence,” Peggy said.
“It’s hard to describe standing there watching your home, which you’ve always considered sanctuary and safe, burn,” Peggy said.
Firefighters removed much of the Bowmans’ possessions from their living room before knocking down the ceiling to ensure nothing else was burning. The gesture, in addition to the fact that their home was saved, was deeply affecting.
“We were just so, so grateful that we still had a home,” Peggy said. “We wrote letters of appreciation that went into the personnel folders for everybody who had been there that morning. But I didn’t feel that that was enough.”
The couple approached the same chaplain who had stood with them, and asked what they could do to give back, and formed the Fire Auxiliary in 1995 with 12 volunteers. For the next 10 years, the volunteers were on call 24 hours a day to respond as the fire department needed. The Auxiliary operated out of the Bowmans’ old station wagon, dubbed the “Firemobile,” and brought water, Gatorade, snacks and other “creature comforts” to both firefighters and victims. Eventually the Firemobile was traded for a pair of vans, which also became a quiet place for families to escape the chaos of the fire scene.
The Bowmans would lead the Fire Auxiliary for nearly 20 years total before passing the torch to another Beavercreek couple.
Rich Bowman graduated from the Air Force academy in engineering, and worked on the F-22 and F-15 fighter jets. Peggy worked as a public relations officer for the Department of Defense, a field that was just becoming open to women at the time. Both moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and helped with the reorganization into what is now Air Force Materiel Command.
The Bowmans were inducted into the Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame in September, an experience that was “very humbling,” Peggy said.
“I get goosebumps,” she said. “It was really an honor.”
The Fire Auxiliary is always seeking new volunteers willing to give back to their community.
“It’s not a full-time, demanding requirement or commitment on anybody’s part,” RIch said.