Family of heroes
“Firefighter of the Year” is a start.
It doesn’t quite encompass the 27 years of service Rick Wylie has given to the Cape Coral Fire Department, or the many years of police service given by two previous generations of Wylies, but those close to Rick agree the recognition of his efforts is long deserved.
Wylie was nominated as the Cape Coral Firefighter of the Year, and awarded by the Cape Coral Power Squadron for his achievement Friday evening during their “An Americanism Dinner.” The dinner marks the third annual event to honor outstanding members of the armed forces and Cape Coral civil forces, according to CCPS Lt. Commander John Hodgkinson.
Wylie was humbled by the nomination.
“It’s a great honor,” he said. “It’s nice to be recognized. I never really liked to be in the spot light, I just like to go to work and help the community and get my job done.”
Wylie joined ranks with the Fire Department after graduating from Cape Coral High School in 1981. His decision to dedicate his life to public safety was influenced by his admiration of father Dick Wylie, a retired Cape Coral Police Officer, and grandfather George Wylie, formerly an officer in Gary, Indiana.
“They were always people-oriented and served the community,” he said. “I’d always admired them for that.”
A Shift Battalion Chief, Wylie stepped up as the Battalion Chief in Training after the department lost 64 percent of their command staff to retirement buyouts offered by the city. The training position leaves him in charge of training and development of various positions within the department, including new recruits, engineers, acting lieutenants, lieutenants and acting battalion chiefs. Additionally, Wylie is in charge of training department employees to perform out-of-rank tasks as needed, as well as various other training tasks.
“I knew we were coming into some difficult times and I wanted to step up and help as much as I can,” Wylie said.
Wylie’s willingness to step up and be a leader in tough times comes natural to him, but his confidence in the face of sometimes-daunting situations has been built brick-by-brick through his career.
“You build a confidence as you go,” Wylie said. “I’ve always enjoyed team sports, and the fire department is like a team. I couldn’t do my job without everybody else. I don’t mind taking the lead role in that.”
Dick Wylie, Rick’s father and a former Cape Coral Police Officer, is proud of his son not only for being recognized but for his many years of selfless service.
“I’m very proud of him,” Dick said. “He has been a wonderful son ever since he was born. Never gave us one moment of worry.”
Of course, Dick worries about his son when he’s entering a burning building or facing the other kinds of danger firefighters encounter on a day-to-day basis, but that comes with the territory.
Prior to becoming a police officer, Dick worked as a news photographer for various newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, during which time he witnessed first-hand the tragedies police and firefighters encounter.
“A fireman I was talking to got killed in an explosion as I was talking to him in 1963,” he said. An explosion from the fire left Dick in a coma as well as injured 21 others. “I know what it’s like, but I am also proud that he and the other policemen and firefighters and medics devote their lives to helping others.”
Even as a photographer, Dick was compelled by the values his father held to help others as a police officer, and employed those values whenever possible. He did this even despite the fact his parents didn’t want him to be exposed to the hardships of becoming a police officer.
“But the idea of devotion to civil service, you just can’t switch that off,” he said. “I guess it was just handed down.”
In a 1959 tenement fire Dick had been assigned to as a Chicago Sun-Times photographer, he was willing to sacrifice good pictures and even his life when he heard children were in danger.
“I went in to take an unusual picture and I heard a baby crying, and I found four little infants on one mattress with embers falling from the ceiling on them,” he recalled. “I grabbed two in my arms and screamed, and a policeman came in and grabbed two just as the ceiling fell. So I know what a fireman goes through. I’m positive that if the occasion arose (Rick) would do the same without ever thinking twice. He’s the father of four with one step-son, so children and things like that are a very, very important part of his life. He’s as great a father as he is a fireman.”
Rick lives in Cape Coral with his children and wife Stacy.
Dick received an award for police officer of the year in 1978 for his hard work as a detective with the CCPD, and just as Dick was able to see his son awarded Friday, his then-young son was there to see him awarded for his efforts.
“Rick saw me enjoy helping others,” he said. However, “He made the decision to apply for the fire department on his own and I had nothing to do with his decision nor did I have anything to do with his appointment. He did it all on his own and everything he has accomplished he has accomplished on his own.”
Wylie was nominated for firefighter of the year by acting Deputy Chief Donald Cochran, who has worked alongside Wylie for 20 years.
“He’s set the standard for leadership in our department,” Cochran said. “You can’t find a bad thing to say about this guy over his career. He’s a teacher, he’s a leader, he’s just a good character. And best of all, he’s a great husband, father, and mentor as well as a friend.”
Cochran said he looked up to Wylie for his ability to take command.
“I wanted to be like him,” he said. “He’s gained the respect of everyone and I wanted to follow in his path.”
On top of the responsibilities Wylie takes on with his newly acquired position, “He implemented mayday procedures and rapid intervention training for all the employees of the fire department on the proper use of mayday protocols and rapid crew deployment for trapped and incapacitated firefighter rescue,” Cochran said.
If a firefighter is trapped or disoriented, mayday procedures allow for an intervention to locate, assess and remove the trapped firefighter.
“This is just honoring his entire career, the type of person he is, and honestly we couldn’t have done it without him,” Cochran said.
Perhaps many people through the years have echoed that gratitude not only to Wylie, but to three generations of men who put the safety of others above all else.