Rose City Firefighter Remembered For ‘Dedication To Service’ After Deadly Crash

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“He was my buddy. I’m going to miss him. I’m going to miss him a lot.”

A 60-year-veteran of fighting fires and saving lives in Ogemaw County was killed in a car crash, leaving a hole in the station he dedicated his life to.

It happened Tuesday morning in front of the Rose City Area Fire Department that Les Wiley served at.

Another car smashed into the side of his truck and trapped him inside.

While the other driver was okay, Les Wiley lost his life.

The deadly crash happened on N. Williams Street in downtown Rose City and came only four days after fellow firefighter Larry Thompson also lost his life.

“To arrive today on the accident out front and to know it was my buddy and there’s nothing I can do,” says Melvin Killinger, fire chaplain at Rose City Area Fire Department and at Lupton Fire Department. “Les, he was just so quiet. He wasn’t one to be a show-boater. He was just Les.”

Killinger met Les Wiley in 1987 with no inkling their decades-old friendship would end like this.

“You know you always have that one guy who stands way in the background,” Killinger says. “He’s that guy that holds you up and when things are bad, he’s there for you. He’s always there for you.”

The collision happened in the road directly across from the station.

Firefighter Mark McIsaac was on his way to the station to clean trucks when he saw the commotion.

“I looked and I saw a little white truck which I knew Les had driven so I hurried up, parked my truck and ran in, got my gear and went out there,” McIsaac says.

Wiley’s own crew, including McIsaac, raced to his side.

“It was pretty hard because you can only do so many things,” McIsaac says. “Everybody that was available was. We had fire fighters from Clear Lake, which is one of our sister departments, and officers from Lupton and they helped us.”

Mark says he remembered talking to Les during the incident.

He says Les kept his sense of humor.

“I had always teased him [for smoking],” McIsaac says. “He had an empty pack of cigarettes on the floor of his truck and I said, Les, do you have a cigarette. He looked at me and said nope.”

Mark says Wiley’s experience built the foundation of the department to what it is.

“He went everywhere with us. He was a part of all of us,” McIsaac says. “He was the legs of somebody that was having to run. He was the arms of somebody who was carrying a ladder. He was the eyes of somebody who had to look to where the fire was. He was a bundle of knowledge. Anything that you’d ask him, you could ask him anything on any of the trucks.

For Melvin and many other young trainees, he served as a constant shadow.

“He was there when I went to college to become a fire officer and he was also there for me when I took my aerial class out of Hampton Township some many years ago,” Killinger says, choking up. “He was there the day that I became fire chief of the fire department.”

Quiet, yet a wealth of knowledge, Wiley is remembered for having a deep-seated pride for the job he loved.

“He would sweep the floors and scrub them,” Killinger says. “This was his house. This is his baby. And he let me be here with him. Without Les’ face here, he will be deeply missed but I have my other brothers and sisters that are here that are going to pick me up through this time frame. We’re…I’m going to miss him.”

Training sessions, Killinger remembers, were made easier with Wiley’s instruction.

“Les never went on vacation,” Killinger says. “If he did, it was only for a day or two to get away but he was always in a hurry to get back to his family. This is his house. And this is where he wanted to be.”

Inside the fire department, ladders to put up black streamers alongside the main engine stood Tuesday night.

They were not intended for Les.

McIsaac says the crew was still mourning the loss of Larry Thompson.

“We are trying to help out another fellow fire fighter who passed away earlier this week,” McIsaac sasy. “He was a retired fire chief from Warren, Michigan and his department is sending people up for his funeral but they couldn’t send equipment up.”

Those streamers, he says, were Wiley’s idea.

“Les is the one that told me about the black drapes,” McIsaac says. “He said well, you know, these black drapes will fit on here. Ironically, hopefully we can do that for Les, too.”

Killinger says Wiley had a dedication without rival that will never be forgotten.

“He was just that gentle old man, I loved him dearly and I’m going to miss him. I already miss him.”

Wiley’s funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.

Fellow firefighter Larry Thompson will be laid to rest Wednesday.