Seattle Fire Lt. Jay G. Wheeler, 57, whose last assignment was at North Admiral’s Station 29, passed away with honors on March 4, 2020. His death was due to metastatic pancreatic cancer after 22 years of exposure as a firefighter.
Jay faced his battle with great courage and without complaint, surrounded by his wife, Valerie; children Molly, Patrick, and Daniel; parents, Garth and Roberta; siblings, Scott, Lori, Sherry, and Craig; and many other family and friends who loved and cared for him deeply. His fire department brothers spent time with Jay and his family during his last days.
Jay earned a B.A. in history at the University of Washington. He began his public service in 1989, serving as an officer for the Seattle Police Department, showing compassion and respect for his community. Jay transferred to the Seattle Fire Department in 1997. During his firefighting career he served on Rescue 1, Ladders 5, 7, 9, and 11, Engines 36 and 38, and continuously at the Fire Alarm Center. Fire Chief Harold D. Scoggins commended Lt. Wheeler for his contributions to public service as a longtime valued member of the Seattle Fire Department. Jay served the City of Seattle for 30 years.
While serving in the Fire Alarm Center, Firefighter Wheeler received a letter of commendation for directing the delivery of a baby by a first-time father over the phone. His steady-handed questions and sure responses put both parents at ease. The baby was found wrapped in a towel as instructed when Engine 39 and the medics arrived a few minutes later. In their thank you letter, the parents acknowledged Jay’s efforts and “all the life-savers at Seattle’s 911. You helped bring a precious gift of life into our lives. We will be forever grateful.”
Jay had a lifelong love of water, from lifeguarding in his teens, as a member of the UW rowing crew in college, as a search and rescue diver for SPD R1, and as a volunteer diver for the Seattle Aquarium. He found great happiness riding and maintaining BMW motorcycles. Riding gave Jay a belonging and connection to wherever he rode and shared his passion with others, along with Valerie, riding side by side.
Jay loved history, was a Jeopardy master, and appreciated quality whiskey. His faith was quiet but sure. Hardest to contemplate in grief are his lost years as a grandfather, the many years of companionship and travel he and his loved ones will not share.
Due to COVID restrictions, Jay was given a virtual line-of-duty death memorial service. In October 2020, he took his place at the Memorial to Fallen Firefighters in Occidental Park in Seattle.