The procession of fire trucks and rescue vehicles stretched as far as the eye could see along a major highway in Paramus today as emergency workers across the state honored Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad worker Michael Kenwood.
Hundreds of mourners filled the Robert Schoem Menorah Chapel to say goodbye to Kenwood, who died late Sunday night as a result of injuries from a rescue attempt early that morning on the flooded Rosedale Road near the Johnson Park School.
“Michael is a hero, not for how he lost his life, but for how he lived it,” said Peter Simon, head of the rescue squad. “He volunteered to make his community better, for how he served our squad and for how he loved his family and friends.”
Kenwood, a Brandeis graduate who lived in East Windsor, had a law degree from Boston University and specialized in intellectual property rights, but also loved working with computers.
Mourners remembered the 39-year-old as a bright, but down-to-earth person who loved science fiction, was a “Trekkie” and relished spending time with his young daughter Laney, playing with her and carrying her on his shoulders.
Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of the Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor shared stories from Kenwood’s friends, colleagues and family, and recalled how the romance blossomed between Kenwood and wife Elizabeth Frenkel, a psychologist who works at the University Medical Center of Princeton.
Kornsgold described Kenwood as a person of strong faith who was devoted to helping others, both in his job as a computer technology consultant or his other calling as a rescue squad member.
“He died doing what he loved,” Kornsgold said, encouraging mourners to be inspired by Kenwood’s life of service.
Just after 4:30 Sunday morning, as Hurricane Irene pounded Princeton with heavy rain and strong winds, township police received a report of a vehicle in the water of the flooded roadway on Rosedale Road in the Stony Brook area near the Johnson Park School.
Police, fire and EMS were all dispatched to the scene to check out the situation. Upon arrival, Kenwood and Simon, both swift water rescue technicians, entered the water to see if people were trapped inside the vehicle. The two were tethered together and both wore helmets and flotation vests.
The current was so strong, they were forced to retreat. While attempting to return to safety, Kenwood slipped into the rapid current. Both men lost their footing and were washed into some trees. Simon was able to gain his footing, get untangled, and was brought to safety. Kenwood was pulled out, was unconscious, and was going in to cardiac arrest. Life-saving efforts were initiated at the scene. He died at the University Medical Center at Princeton that night.
It was later determined that the vehicle in the water was unoccupied and had been abandoned after being driven into the water. Unable to tell if the car was occupied, rescue workers had called out for a signal,. They asked for the brakes to be tapped and lights flashed, possibly because of an electrical malfunction.
“All of us owe our deepest gratitude to the public servants who worked through the storm to keep our communities safe,” said U.S. Rep. Rush Holt in a statement about hurricane relief efforts and Kenwood’s death. “My thoughts are especially with the family of Michael Kenwood, who confronted swift floodwaters in an effort to protect Princeton residents. His sacrifice reminds us of the dangers that our first responders face willingly each day.”
Several state, county and local officials attended the funeral, including Lt. Gov. Guadagno.
Kenwood is one of two Mercer County residents to die as a result of Hurricane Irene. Last night the body of Hun School graduate Cesar Ortiz was found by rescue workers in Lawrence. Ortiz was the owner of Lawrence Landscapes on Bakers Basin Road. He went down a manhole and got sucked into a sewer pipe while cleaning up after the storm. Ortiz, 50, was married with one son.
Information about services for Ortiz is pending.
Donations in Kenwood’s memory can be made to the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad.