Wheatley became a firefighter and paramedic in Romeoville in January 2000 after graduating from a paramedic program at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, said Russell Slagle, who mentored and trained Wheatley in Romeoville. Wheatley left in May 2001 for a paramedic's job with the Chicago Fire Department.
Slagle took solace in the fact that Wheatley had followed his life's passion.
"The love of his life was becoming a fireman," said Slagle, also a close friend. "He actually died doing what he loved to do."
Wheatley grew up in Lemont, played football at Lemont High School and ranked 30th out of 203 students in his 1997 graduating class, according to school officials.
Denise Dalton, a guidance counselor at the high school who taught Wheatley as a sophomore, said he was "more than just a kid on a football team." She said he founded a club with fellow teammates called Athletes Committed to Excellence. They were role models for younger students and taught them the importance of not drinking and making healthy choices.