A Saxton, Pennsylvania fire police officer died in the line of duty Saturday when he was involved in a crash while responding to another motor vehicle accident.
William A. Wheeler, 66, had been with the Saxton Fire Department for six months.
He was headed to an accident scene in his personal vehicle at about 1:20 a.m. when he veered off the roadway and struck a utility pole, said Chief Mark Taylor.
The fire department was alerted that another accident had occurred involving one of their own, and that the conditions looked bad, Taylor said. Wheeler's fellow firefighters responded to the scene and performed a rapid extrication, and their ambulance crew transported him to Nason Hospital in Roaring Springs, where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
Wheeler was retired from a military career, Taylor said. He spent four years enlisted in the Air Force and then many years working as a civilian for the county Army depot. He is survived by his wife.
The chief said Wheeler took his role as a fire police officer very seriously and felt that he should be there for the firefighters on every call. "He had a scanner in every room of his house," Taylor said.
"He told his wife that even after his military career, nothing was more rewarding than the work he did with the fire company," Taylor said.
Taylor said Wheeler was instantly adopted into the fire department family when he joined six months ago. "He was just a friend to everybody," he said.
The Saxton Fire Department is an all volunteer department with 75 active members, and operates in an area of 50 square miles in seven different boroughs and townships. In addition to providing fire protection they run two ALS ambulances.
This is the first time they have had a line of duty death in almost 70 years of service.
"We're working through it together," the chief said. "You don't expect it to happen in a small town and when it does, it hits you right between the eyes."
A memorial service is planned for Thursday at 5 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Saxton. Any fire companies that would like to attend are asked to contact the fire department by Tuesday at (814) 635-2231.