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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

BEMCo alum dies in hurricane rescue

Published: September 2, 2011
Section: Featured, News

Hurricane Irene struck the Brandeis family with tragedy this weekend, claiming the life of Michael Kenwood ’94, a university alumnus who lived the values of heroism and selflessness to their fullest degree.

Kenwood, a former director of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) who dedicated his life to saving others as a volunteer emergency medical technician, died Sunday after attempting a rescue in Princeton Township, NJ, during Hurricane Irene. He was 39.

“Michael is a hero. Not for how he lost his life. But for how he lived it,” Peter Simon ’94, a close friend of Kenwood and president of the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad, said in a eulogy Thursday afternoon at the The Robert Shoem Menorah Chapel in Paramus. “For how he volunteered to make his community better, for how he served our Squad, and for how he loved his family and friends.”

Kenwood served as a volunteer EMT on the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad and responded to a call from Rosedale Road in Princeton Township at 4:37 a.m. Sunday, after a report of a submerged car in Stony Brook, according to The New York Times.

Unsure if people were in the car, Kenwood and Simon went into the water and called for a signal. When the brake lights flashed, they entered the water with helmets and flotation vests but had to turn back because the current was too strong.

As they turned back, the current swept them into trees and disconnected Kenwood from a rope with Simon, carrying him downstream before he was rescued and found in cardiac arrest. The car had been abandoned and the break lights may have flashed because of a short circuit, according to The Times. After being transported to the Princeton University Medical Center’s intensive care unit, Kenwood died later Sunday.

At least 45 people have died from storm-related incidents and more than 800,000 people were still without power as of Wednesday afternoon. Irene first struck the United States as a hurricane, hitting the outer banks of North Carolina before moving up the East Coast and weakening into a tropical storm over New England. On campus, the university suffered relatively minor damage with tree branches down and flooding in dormitories and Goldfarb library.

In a letter accepting his nomination to become director of BEMCo, Kenwood wrote of his desire to save others in need, recounting a personal experience with live-saving medical care following a car accident in 1990 when another car struck his and left it smashed between two trees.

“I will never forget the feeling of fear and helplessness that swept over me as I looked from my two friends, one of whom was unconscious, to the hysterical driver of the other car, to my right wrist, which was deeply lacerated and bleeding heavily,” Kenwood wrote in the letter. “I swore to myself that if I lived, I would learn the skills to care for myself and others should another medical emergency ever confront me again.”

After receiving his EMT certification in 1992, and later serving as BEMCo’s director, Kenwood graduated from Boston University Law School and ran his own company, Kenwood Technical Consulting.

Kenwood’s letter was filled with humor and also expressed his desire to serve the organization in the best capacity, even if that meant someone else was better fit to become director.

“I personally feel that my skills would be best utilized in the position of director, but if you feel that someone else is better qualified or would do a better job than myself, then I sincerely ask you to vote for him or her,” he wrote. “I run for these offices because I believe in BEMCo, and seek whatever is best for the organization.”

BEMCo mourned the loss of their fellow EMT and praised his service to the emergency medical community.

“It was evident to us that Michael was an exemplary EMT, consistently putting the well being of others before his own,” Paul Schneider, director of BEMCo, said in a statement. “Michael embodied the qualities that all BEMCo members strive to uphold, and we are proud to wear the same uniform that he wore during his service on BEMCo.”

“He was dedicated and loyal. He loved BEMCo,” director of Public Safety Ed Callahan said in an interview. “It just shows how he wanted to be linked to the community. It says a lot about him as a human being.”

For Kenwood, the values of kindness and helping others defined not just his work as an EMT, but his life, explained Simon, who first met Kenwood in BEMCo and shared a suite on campus with him junior and senior year at Brandeis, becoming a close friend of Kenwood and his family.

“Michael was thoughtful, insightful, intelligent and a straightforward guy. No pretenses. No politics. No BS. You could tell when Michael enjoyed something by the smile on his face and the eagerness with which he talked about it,” Simon said. “His laugh was infectious, and spending time with him was an enriching and rewarding experience in and of itself.”

In his BEMCo nomination letter, Kenwood explained that knowledge should be converted into action, and for him that meant serving others with emergency care.

“Since I believe that being capable of doing something isn’t nearly so good as actually doing that something, the choice was easy: BEMCo!” Kenwood wrote.

Kenwood is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Frenkel, and his three-year-old daughter.

Donations in Kenwood’s honor can be sent with a check to the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad, PFARS 237 North Harrison Street, Princeton, NJ 08540.