St. Thomas native named Florida fire department's firefighter of the year


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ST. THOMAS - When Michael Wheatley was growing up on St. Thomas as a child, he used to sit by his own scanner, listening for something to happen.

"He would wake me up at 1 a.m., and he would say, 'Mom, there's an accident,' and I would take him," said Mae Wheatley, his mother.

That interest in helping others during emergencies reached fruition, as the St. Thomas native was named the Firefighter of the Year for 2013 for the city of Palm Beach Shores, Fla.

When Michael was a boy, Mae Wheatley, who knew many of the St. Thomas Rescue officials, would take him to the scene of whatever incident occurred, and her son soon got to know the rescue officials himself.

By the time he was a teenager, he knew all of the officials and would help in any way he could.

Now 32, Michael Wheatley still listens to the scanner, but now it is part of his job.

A graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School, he now is a lieutenant with the Palm Beach Shores Fire Department.

"With me pushing forward, we now do EMS, as well," Michael Wheatley said, noting that he was the reason the department became certified in providing emergency medical services. Many of the other departments in the area are not certified, he said.

Michael Wheatley started in emergency medical services after graduating high school in 1999. He then moved to Florida and attended Palm Beach Community College's program, from which he graduated in 2001.

He then continued his education in the field and graduated from the Health Career Institute's paramedic program in 2005, after which he attended the Coral Springs Fire Academy, graduating from there in 2009.

In 2012, he joined the Palm Beach Shores Fire Department.

"His dedication and commitment have been a huge asset to our fire department," said Palm Beach Shores Fire Chief Randy Walker.

Michael Wheatley also remains a member of St. Thomas Rescue, which he has been assisting since he was 14 years old, according to his mother.

"I will always come back to assist with big events, or if there's ever a big disaster," Michael Wheatley said. "I've already told my company, if there's a big disaster in the Virgin Islands, we're going."

He returns annually for Carnival celebrations on St. Thomas, which he expects he will continue to do for years to come because it is St. Thomas Rescue's busiest activity.

"He is very dedicated to his job, to his interest in helping people," said Mae Wheatley.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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