I just had the painful experience of having to say goodbye to yet another great man. Just days before his diagnosis, he was telling me about strange leg pains he had been having. Ignorantly, I laughed at the fact that he was finally starting to feel “old”. I reminded him of his need for reading glasses at an ICS class we attended together (a crutch that I soon discovered I would rely on within the year, as well). After over 30 years of fire service, time was beginning to take its toll on both of us. Of course, you wouldn’t know it to look at him. He stood there in his city uniform, having just got off a long shift at work, followed by a municipal meeting, and now he stood in one of the stations where he was a volunteer chief officer overseeing modification to the rescue truck that were in progress. The gray hair was starting to win the battle on his head, and his indulgence in firehouse culinary treats was tipping his belt buckle ever so slightly, but he was still running full speed, just as he did his entire life, fearless and unstoppable.
He asked me to bring some equipment from my station to try some different mounting configurations for equipment they had recently ordered. I remember feeling honored that my opinions were both sought and respected. That was our relationship; professional respect, personal connection, and typical ass-busting that comes with the territory. Over the years, our relationship took many twists and turns. We “tuxed-up” for each other at the altar, he helped me land my first “uniformed” job, and I helped him test his Vascar. We fought bad guys together, we fought fires together, and we dug people out of cars together more times than I can remember. We talked strategy, we talked firehouse politics, we dreamed, and we laughed. We also disagreed…a lot; usually about strategies, firehouse politics, and even our personal dreams. Watching him in action, I could never decide if I should admire the way he risked his life, or chastise him for nearly getting himself killed. I remember one nasty double fatal where he lambasted me for pulling his crew out, keeping them from getting killed. There was no one left to save that morning, but he hated that we gave up trying. The risk was not worth the reward. We were never angrier at each other, even though we both knew the other was right.
This news, however, was chilling; a malignant brain tumor! He had bounced back from so many line-of-duty injuries in his career, we all believed he could do it one more time. And he believed it as well. We often hear talk of people “bravely battling cancer”, but he was the poster child for the stubborn fight. We watched as he boldly stated that he would beat this “thing” as he called it. He then took action, doing everything the doctors asked, and then some. If anyone could beat this beast, he could.
The fight raged on, lasting so much longer that any doctor thought it would. Those extra months with him, while difficult to comprehend, were certainly cherished by his family, friends and comrades. Even as treatments seemed to be losing ground, somehow he still believed. I personally don’t know when he finally realized that this was a battle he could not win, we never discussed that when I visited. Perhaps he never gave up hope. Nevertheless, he was a realist, a planner, so it was no surprise that he was more concerned about everyone else than himself. That is one of the characteristics that made him so great. When people pass away, they say “He is in a better place”. Whatever your beliefs are, you have to believe that the place where he is now just got better when he arrived.
As the sadness of his death passes, the celebration of his life will go on. I have many fond memories that I will cherish, and many lesson that I have learned from knowing him. I will certainly recall and share the multitude of great stories where he is one of the main characters. His passion for duty and crazy sense of adventure was unmatched. His greatness as a public servant, devoted father, loving husband, emergency responder, leader, and great friend will inspire me for the rest of my life. For now, I join so many others as we struggle through tearful eyes to focus on our lives without him.
Rest easy, brother, we will take it from here.
RONALD E. “MOOSE” WENTZEL, JR.
11-13-62 - 1-12-14