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Former Lafayette firefighter honored with one last fire truck ride before being laid to rest

Life is coming full circle for one Lafayette firefighter. 96-year-old James "De" Newell was carried to his funeral in the same fire truck he used while serving in the department for 22 years.

Posted: Dec 21, 2020 6:39 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) -- Life is coming full circle for one Lafayette firefighter. Before being laid to rest Monday, James "De" Newell, 96, got one last ride in an antique Lafayette fire engine. This ride is particularly special for the Newell family because it's the same engine he drove while serving in the department for nearly 22 years.

"Two months ago, I called Richard Doyle who's the fire chief and a friend of mine, and I just simply asked, would it be possible to have a fire truck in the procession when he dies, he said 'no problem, he'd be glad to do it.' So I told that to my dad and he was tickled that they'd have that," said Jeff Newell, James Newell's son.

What Newell didn't know is that his casket would be riding in the same engine he drove while serving as a Lafayette firefighter from 1956 to 1978.

"After dad died, Doyle called me back and said we're going to use the 1936 antique truck that's in the museum (Five Points Fire Station Museum located on Main St. in Lafayette) and I said, 'I wish I would have known that because that's the truck dad drove,'" said Jeff. "I think dad is the last person to have driven that truck in the course of duty, everybody else has done it in the ceremonial sense but he actually drove it for work."

Newell's children say he had a passion for serving and putting others before himself.

"What impressed me most about my dad is that he memorized all the city streets and where all the fire plugs were on every street and those extra seconds of getting to a fire could be very valuable. And this is before Google Maps and anything else," said Jeff.

Beyond his firefighting days, the family is also remembering how he was off duty.

"Kind, caring, generous, compassionate, loving," said Jana Anthrop, Newell's oldest daughter. "Huge Cubs fan," added Jeff. "Go Cubs Go was his favorite song because they play it when they win. We played it for him at the end of the Mass and right here at the cemetery as well for him. He did win today," said Jeff.

Although Newell wasn't told his funeral procession would include his casket riding in his former fire engine, his family said they feel like he knows.

"I know dad saw it today, he knows," said Jeff. "That's why the sun is out," added Julie Newell, Newell's youngest daughter. "We didn't get any rain today," said Jeff.

The engine traveled from his funeral held at St. Mary's Cathedral to the Tippecanoe Memory Gardens located in West Lafayette, where he was buried.

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