'He was the whole galaxy': fallen Burnaby firefighter receives poignant sendoff

Nicole Kinney was poised and downright funny speaking at her father’s funeral Tuesday.

She described her dad, longtime Burnaby firefighter Ken Kinney, as a competitive, athletic “guy’s guy” who ended up with three artsy daughters, who gave her nicknames like “Snippy” “Grizz” and “Twigasaurus,” who warned her never ever to sit down on a public toilet and who, when faced with the lung cancer that would take his life, “fought like hell to the very end.”

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It was only when she began to address the men and women of the Burnaby Fire Department that Nicole broke down.

“It is impossible to put into words what you mean to us,” she said through tears. “You have been by our side since day 1, through thick and thin, and there’s no way we could have gone through this without you. You’ve shown us the true meaning of loyalty, compassion and unconditional love, and I hope you know that we consider you family. You are the greatest gift my dad has left for us, and I’m completely humbled by everything you’ve done for our family.”

Nicole spoke those words to a sea of active and retired Burnaby firefighters and other first responders from across the Lower Mainland and beyond who gathered at Willingdon Church to pay tribute to her father, a senior captain who died of lung cancer on June 7 after 28 years as a firefighter.

The message from the men and women in the fire service to Kinney’s wife, Debbie, and three daughters, Nicole, Kirsten and Kaitlyn, was clear.

“Our support will always be there for all of you,” said Jeff Clark, president of IAFF Local 323. “As the Burnaby firefighters family, we’ll watch over you and stand by your side. We will never forget Ken. We will honour him. We will remember all the good things he did.”

Those who spoke at the service and in a video celebrating Kinney’s life spoke of a witty, larger-than-life guy who loved his family, loved life, loved being a Burnaby firefighter and loved to compete, especially in hockey.

Many – from Mayor Mike Hurley, a retired Burnaby firefighter who worked with Kinney, to Kinney’s hockey teammates – talked about his unshakeable belief in himself.

A master at coming up with nicknames for others, he had a couple of his own: Tin Man, from his work in heating and air conditioning, and Galaxy.

Why Galaxy?

“Because he wasn’t just a star, he was the whole Galaxy,” said Clark with a laugh, speaking of Kinney’s performance as a goalie in the hockey final of the Police and Fire Games in 1997.

In 28 years of service, Kinney’s passion for firefighting never wavered, said deputy fire Chief Chris Bowcock.

Bowcock cited a verse in the bible where God asks the prophet Isaiah who will go and do a work that needs to be done and the prophet Isaiah answers, “Here am I. Send me.”

“When there’s a fire anywhere in the city, our firefighters reply, ‘Send me.’” Bowcock said. “Thousands of times Ken Kinney stepped forward and said, ‘Send me.’ It didn’t matter what the situation was; it didn’t matter what the consequences would be; it didn’t matter how closely death knocked, Ken answered, ‘Send me.’”

Firefighters are three times more likely than the general population to die of cancer.

The risk is raised because of exposure to toxic chemicals on the job, so firefighters who lose their lives to work-related cancers – like Kinney’s – are deemed to have died in the line of duty and are honoured with a line-of-duty funeral.

Tuesday’s tribute began with a processional that shut down Willingdon Avenue between Canada Way and Burke Street.

During a recessional after the service, uniformed first responders lined the street as Kinney’s casket passed by in an engine from Fire Hall 7, the hall Kinney had been working out of before he became sick.

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