PORTSMOUTH – As a firefighter, Newington Lt. Christopher DeWolf was “strong like an ox” – once, he picked up and moved a clothes dryer on his own to help someone to safety. But, blessed with “gentleness,” he could always lighten the most dire of situations. His death Thursday from a single-car accident on an icy stretch of Interstate 95 was mourned by firefighters across the Seacoast, who, in the wake of the accident, gathered at the Newington fire station, where DeWolf, 41, had worked for just six months after 17 years with the Dover department. The accident was ruled a “line-of-duty” fatality since DeWolf was driving to work from his home in Kittery, Maine, in advance of his normal shift in order to cover the station while colleagues investigated a smoke-odor call on Woodbury Avenue. Extra manpower is called in when extreme weather conditions may result in an increase in calls.
Portsmouth firefighters arrived at the accident scene, near the Woodbury Avenue exit, shortly before 8 a.m. Authorities said DeWolfs Dodge Durango slid off the slippery roadway and crashed into the concrete base of a sign pole. Rescue personnel did everything they could to save his life, said Portsmouth Fire Capt. Val Pamboukes, but DeWolf succumbed to his injuries at the scene. Trained as a paramedic, and also a popular mentor to young firefighters in training, DeWolf was remembered as a dependable professional who took action when it was needed. Still, it was said, he wouldnt hesitate to use humor or compassion to lighten the mood at a time of stress.
Newington Fire Chief Roy Greenleaf said DeWolf had switched from Dover to Newington for the chance to join a smaller department and move up to the rank of lieutenant.
“We all feel it,” said Greenleaf, who was among firefighters from several departments who gathered at the Newington fire station to remember the father of two and a former Marshwood High School hockey coach.
“When its one of your own, it really hits home,” Greenleaf added. “It shows you how fragile life can be.”
DeWolf began his firefighting career in his early 20s as a member of the small volunteer crew in Kittery, Maine. From the beginning, said Kittery Fire Chief Dave OBrien, DeWolf showed a passion for the work and a willingness to take charge in dangerous situations.
“He was the guy you counted on who was going to go in and take care of business,” said OBrien.
Brian Jacques said hell never forget DeWolfs advice to him on his first day as a firefighter in Dover.
“You have this smile on your face because youre excited to do what youve been training to do for a while,” said Jacques, 32, who also later moved to the Newington department. “He said, Dont ever forget this. Remember this moment. Youll never feel anything like this again.” And when the moment became too much to handle for some firefighters, DeWolf would step in to offer a little comfort when it was needed. “He was always trying to make a situation – no matter how bad it was – tolerable,” said Lt. Tom McQuade, a Newington firefighter who had trained under DeWolf. “He had a way to make you feel 110 percent better about what was going on.” “Theres nothing as strong as gentleness, and theres nothing as gentle as strength,” said OBrien, paraphrasing a well-known quotation, “and there it was, right there.” Funeral services for DeWolf will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday at Eliot Baptist Church in Eliot, Maine. Public visiting hours are scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday at the church.