WATERTOWN — In the history of the Watertown Fire Department, Patrick J. Wiley is most likely the only firefighter who had to stop on his way home from work to pick up diapers for the man who eventually replaced him as battalion chief.
After 40 years with the department, Mr. Wiley, 61, left the Emma Flower Taylor Fire Station on South Massey Street for the last time Wednesday. He was replaced by his son, Fire Battalion Chief Timothy P. “Tucker” Wiley.
Saying he’s “very proud,” Mr. Wiley said there is no one he’d rather see take over his position as battalion chief than his 41-year-old son, a 17-year veteran of the fire department himself. They are believed to be the only father-son team ever to serve as battalion chiefs in the department at the same time.
The younger Mr. Wiley joked that his father probably never had any idea when he started his career in 1974 that the firefighter relieving him on the last day would be his son.
“It never crossed my mind,” the father said.
For the past 25 years, the elder Mr. Wiley has been battalion chief at the Massey Street fire station in charge of 18 firefighters, three engines, a ladder truck and a rescue truck, and coordinated all of that manpower and equipment at fire scenes. It was the best job anyone could ever have, he said.
Starting June 24, 1974, he left almost 40 years to the day. He was one of 30 firefighters hired when the city opened up the Washington Street fire station, now the site of Stratton Hardware. It closed as part of consolidation of the department in 1987.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” he said.
During his career, he has seen tragedy and heroics, all part of the job, he said.
In 2001, Mr. Wiley was among about 40 firefighters who responded to a June 8 blaze that destroyed the building that housed Cellutech Inc. at the Watertown Center for Business and Industry, the former site of New York Air Brake on Starbuck Avenue.
It was the biggest fire of his career, he said. Nearly half of the 6,000-square-foot brick structure was destroyed. He also remembered an early morning arson fire at Midtown Towers, 159 Mechanic St., that killed three elderly residents.
During the late 1970s, he responded to a house fire at Bronson and North Hamilton streets in which two children died. It was Mr. Wiley who entered the structure and brought their bodies out, he recalled.
“It was heartbreaking,” he said.
While that was one of the lower points, Mr. Wiley remembered when he saved a husband and wife from their burning house at 121 Flower Ave. E. on Christmas Eve 1999. The first firefighter at the scene, Mr. Wiley kicked in the door and went through the fire on his hands and knees in search of Alan and Shirley Wright. He could hear them breathing, he said.
He got the couple out alive. They spent several months recuperating in the hospital. All these years later, the family still shows its appreciation, sending him a Christmas card every year.
“They say thanks for another Christmas,” he said.
A year later, the International Association of Fire Chiefs awarded him the Benjamin Franklin Service Award for Valor for the bravery he showed on that day.
His father was the major reason he chose firefighting as a career, the younger Mr. Wiley said, noting that he did not have far to go if he needed any questions answered about the job. His father was well-respected throughout the department, he said.
“It’s bittersweet he’s gone,” he said. “I’m already missing him, but I get to replace him. Now, I’m the smartest Wiley in the department.”
Stressing that he has no regrets, Mr. Wiley said he will especially will miss “the guys.”
He said he believes people appreciate the job that he and his former colleagues perform.
“When we go out for a rescue, fire or accident, people are always glad to see us,” he said. “We’re always there to help them.”