Mike Goodwin embodied the modern-day good shepherd, jeopardizing his own welfare for the benefit of his flock, according to the Rev. Majorie J. Neal, pastor of St. Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“As a servant-leader, Mike was willing to lay his life down, and he did,” Neal said during today’s funeral service for Goodwin, the Philadelphia Fire Department captain who was killed on April 6 while fighting a South Philly fabric store blaze.
Hundreds of firefighters from throughout the tri-state region and across the nation joined Goodwin’s relatives and friends, along with Mayor Michael Nutter and many other city officials, at the Kensington church to celebrate the life of the man known for his unwavering dedication to family, the fire department and God.
The understated red brick house of worship at Trenton Avenue and Cumberland Street wasn’t large enough to contain the assembly, so mourners lined the surrounding streets, saluting the fire truck that carried Goodwin’s American flag-draped casket to the service. Many of those who remained outside the church watched the service on a large video screen.
Goodwin, 53, a Parkwood resident and married father of two, had almost 30 years of service in the department and was president of the church council at St. Michael’s. Goodwin is survived by his wife, Kelly; adult daughter, Dorothy Dunn; adult son, Michael Jr.; mother Elizabeth; three siblings; two grandchildren and numerous other relatives.
“Every Sunday when he wasn’t at work, he was here at church, worshipping and serving,” Neal said in her inspirational and poignant homily. “[Goodwin] was truly a servant-leader, following the example of the Lord.”
“Mike was council president, so he was involved in all of it,” St. Michael’s member Bob Crane said, noting the church’s numerous community outreach efforts, including a food bank and after-school program for kids. “I don’t know how we’re going to make it without him.”
As the captain of Ladder 27, Goodwin commanded his company from the front. On the evening of his death, he and other firefighters climbed to the third-story roof of the burning and vacated Jack B. Fabrics store at 748 S. Fourth St. trying to contain the flames. But the roof collapsed and Goodwin fell into the inferno. Firefighter Andrew Godlewski suffered burns to his hand trying unsuccessfully to pull Goodwin to safety. Godlewski attended Thursday’s services with his hand bandaged.
“As a captain, you are in charge, but you spend your time with the group. … If you’re a good officer, you’re going to be with your men,” said Firefighter Kent Barnwell, who worked alongside Goodwin in the early 1990s at Ladder 14 in the city’s Strawberry Mansion section.
Goodwin eventually left Ladder 14 upon his promotion to lieutenant. He would later become captain and will be promoted again to battalion chief posthumously in keeping with fire department policy. But even as a rank-and-file firefighter, he was an unofficial leader, a jokester who would keep everyone upbeat.
“He was always a fun guy to work with,” said Firefighter Richard Porter, who still works at Ladder 14. “It was a great time in the fire department. We had a great group of guys who got together and stayed together. We socialized off the job and it was like a family.”
Goodwin had a serious side too, and never hesitated to speak his mind when he felt that something was amiss.
“He would never bite his tongue, [but] he did it in a respectful way,” Porter said.
Perhaps taking her cue from Goodwin, Neal in the midst of her sermon, called upon Nutter to end the city’s four-year contract dispute with its firefighters union. Mourners inside and outside the church responded with a 30-second round of applause.
Goodwin served several years in the U.S. Navy after graduating from Mastbaum Tech, but he seemed destined to become a firefighter from a young age. A longtime church member told Neal how curiosity got the best of a 6-year-old Goodwin and he intentionally tripped a street-corner fire alarm in his old neighborhood, just to see what would happen.
Fire trucks rushed to the scene as Goodwin fled and thought he had eluded trouble. But then word got back to his grandfather that Goodwin was responsible for the false alarm.
“Back in those days, there were little old ladies who looked out their second-floor windows,” Neal said. “His grandfather marched him to the firehouse and he spent the next two weeks sweeping the floors.”
Goodwin may not have decided then to become a firefighter, but he certainly learned accountability for his actions, said the pastor, who also noted that Goodwin grieved whenever other firefighters were killed in the line of duty and openly questioned why God would allow them to die. But he did not allow that to destroy his faith.
Goodwin’s fellow church members shared his pain.
“Whenever there was a report about a fire and there was an injury or death, my first thoughts were, ‘I wonder if Mike knew that guy,’ ” said Sue Campbell, a lifelong St. Michael’s member. “Then [this time] I learned it was him.”
“It was devastating,” said church member Jackie Sarge.
Following the service, Goodwin’s body was taken to Hillside Cemetery in Roslyn for burial. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.