Friends recall Patrick Wiley, one 'tough' Watertown firefighter

Dec. 14—WATERTOWN — One of his oldest friends described retired Battalion Chief Patrick J. Wiley as the Watertown Fire Department's version of Clint Eastwood and Cool Hand Luke all rolled up into one.

"He was a combination of both of them, that's for sure," said colleague and retired Capt. David Burns.

Mr. Wiley, who served with the fire department for 40 years, died on Wednesday. He was 70.

His death was a shock to the men he served with. Within the past two weeks, Mr. Wiley, a well-known contractor along the St. Lawrence River, boated to Carleton Island to work on a metal roof for the day.

Mr. Burns and Ed Brown, a retired battalion chief, described their friend as the fireman's fireman. There wasn't a thing he couldn't do and didn't do with the fire department.

He fought fires like Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" character in the actor's Spaghetti Westerns and looked at life like the war hero with an attitude, played by Paul Newman in the 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke.

"He was a tough guy," Mr. Brown said. "The guys would follow him into any fire."

And Fire Chief Matthew R. Timerman did. During Christmastime in 1999, Chief Timerman, then a firefighter, remembered how he helped Battalion Chief Wiley play a role in saving a couple from their burning house at 121 Flower Ave.

The first firefighter on the scene, the battalion chief kicked in the back door and found the couple, Alan and Shirley Wright, both 64, lying on the first floor.

Battalion Chief Wiley had run from the back of the house to get Chief Timerman and another firefighter, who were putting their air packs on.

Not wearing his apparatus, Battalion Chief Wiley went into the burning house and started dragging them out of the house. Chief Timerman helped him get the woman out first and the battalion chief went back into the house with the help of another firefighter and got the man out, Chief Timerman recalled.

The couple survived.

"It's amazing he did it without his air pak," the fire chief said.

But the battalion chief ended up in the hospital spitting up ash, Mr. Brown recalled.

The battalion chief was recognized by the International Associations of Fire Chief's Ben Franklin Award for the save, said Capt. Derrick Derouin, who worked with him for several years before his friend and boss retired in 2014.

Three years earlier, two friends turned up missing after they went exploring the caves near the Black River that snake their way underneath the city, Mr. Brown said.

While rescuers were looking in another cave and not finding them, Battalion Chief Wiley headed to another cave with a couple of firefighters.

Taking off his gear, wearing a T-shirt and jeans and armed with just a rope and a flashlight, Battalion Chief Wiley climbed through a hole and entered the cave, Mr. Brown recalled.

He found the two men inside, he said

The two lost men emerged from the caverns after nearly two days inside with just a dead flashlight. When they were escorted out, they were cold, wet and showing early signs of hypothermia.

Again, the battalion chief — with one of the longest careers in the department's history — was involved in another save.

"You could make a movie about it," Mr. Brown said.

Shortly after 9/11, he, his friend and two other city firefighters headed down to the World Trade Center to work on the pile for a couple of emotional days after the terrorist attacks.

It was two days they would never forget, Mr. Brown said.

Battalion Chief Wiley was a man of few words at a fire scene.

"You knew what your job was and you did it," Capt. Derouin said, remembering getting such orders as "someone has got to put this fire out."

The fire captain would simply respond, "working on it. Will have it done in five minutes."

In his first days of a firefighter, Chief Timerman was on the receiving end of the battalion chief's instructions about a locked basement door at a fire.

So he kicked the door in, breaking it all kinds of pieces.

"What the hell are you doing?" Battalion Chief Wiley barked at him, wondering why he just didn't try another way to get the door unlocked.

When the two men got back to the fire station, Chief Timerman apologized. They laughed about what had happened.

"You just wanted his respect," Chief Timerman said.

As much as he was a firefighter, he was a devoted family man. His only son, Tucker, followed in his footsteps and he, too, has worked his way up to the position of battalion chief. They also worked together with the contracting business.

But he was an especially doting grandfather, his two friends said. The grandfather of seven never missed any of their games, and talked proudly about them.

His friends were his brothers at the fire department, Mr. Brown and Mr. Burns said. He still attended many fire department events, outings and functions, where they would all tell old stories.

Mr. Burns recalled one of the last times he saw his friend when Battalion Chief Wiley wore sunglasses and a yellow shirt. They quickly struck up a conversation like they had done countless times before.

"He was cool," Mr. Burns said. "He was THAT guy."

Over their long friendship, Mr. Brown and his old friend went hunting and fishing together. They spent vacations in Florida.

Last Tuesday, Mr. Brown and his best friend were putting together plans on Thursday to visit another colleague who's in hospice. It was the last time they talked.

"And now he's gone," Mr. Brown said.