Ask a group of children what they want to be when they grow up and at least one is bound to say a firefighter. This week's Hometown Hero is one who grew up to do just that, but he doesn't just do his work to serve and protect the community. He works to help his fellow first responders as well.
Patrick Wiley, 42, of Meadville is a Meadville Central Fire Department captain and has been in the department for 17 years. His experience began as a 15-year-old as a volunteer with Vernon Central. This father of three was following in the family footsteps and a firefighting heritage that goes as far back as his great grandfather.
“Probably from the time I could talk I loved fire trucks,” he said. It was something he always wanted to do. So much so that he even takes on additional shifts and work as a volunteer with West Mead No. 2 and as a paramedic with Meadville Area Ambulance Service.
“If somebody says the excitement doesn't play into it they are lying to you,” Wiley said. “But I do love to help people.”
As a part of his position, Wiley mentors and helps train firefighters on probation in the department. He also said he likes to have students ride along with him to show them skills. It is his informal work outside of the station that is additionally meaningful to him.
His anonymous nominator emphasized the help he offers to fellow first responders who might be suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. Wiley said 25 years on the job means he has seen things that can be hard to shake, and he said he finally turned to counseling to help himself.
“If I am willing to admit it, you can too,” he said he wants others to know. He informally started to get the word out that he is someone others can talk to who has been there in those difficult situations. Currently he speaks with about six others.
“I'm trying to use my experience to help other people at this point so they don't have to go through what I went through. It's a tough life and tough job and everybody thinks they are Superman, but we're all human,” he said.
Wiley tries to be an additional person of support for those dealing with PTSD from their work as firefighters. Sometimes it is difficult to share experiences with friends and family, so it helps to have someone who can relate.
“If you don't have family and friends to support you, you have to have a support system,” he said. “You try to suck it all in, and I'm trying to show people you have to let it out. You have to talk to somebody.”
It can be hard to find the right counselor, and talking to someone can be a good first step.
“I make it known if they want to talk I''m willing to help,” he said.
Wiley also is active in Toys for Tots through the Lake Erie F.O.O.L.S. (Fraternal Order of the Leatherheads), and he also takes it upon himself to collect food for local food pantries as well as the food locker at Meadville Area Middle School. On his own he has collected several thousand pounds of food, he said.
“I've seen the area deteriorate over the years I have worked, and there are so many needy families, and there are only so many services that can help them,” Wiley said.
His wish is that more people would support their local fire department and, if nothing else, to reach out to their neighbors and others if they see someone in need.
“Neighbors don't talk to each other. If they truly want to bring their community back they need to get to know each other,” he said.
To nominate a Hometown Hero, send a brief couple sentences why that person is deserving to email@example.com with “Hometown Hero” in the subject line. Please include a daytime phone number and email address if possible.