After De Soto Rural Fire Protection District Lt. Ron Wehlage finished his shift Sunday morning (June 28) and then did not show up for his next one two days later, Chief Tom Fitzgerald sent someone to check on him.
Unfortunately, Wehlage, 40, was found dead Tuesday morning (June 30) at his home in De Soto, where he lived alone, Fitzgerald said.
“He was the nicest, gentlest, biggest-hearted person you would ever know,” Fitzgerald said.
He said it’s not known exactly when or how Wehlage died, but the fire district is considering it “a line-of-duty death.”
Fitzgerald said De Soto Rural Fire must await a Medical Examiner’s report for more details about Wehlage’s death.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was called to investigate, which is standard procedure when there’s a sudden death, spokesman Grant Bissell said.
“There’s no indication of anything suspicious or criminal,” he said.
Fitzgerald said he believed Wehlage had been a firefighter for about 22 years. Wehlage had worked at De Soto Rural fire for more than 18 years, after starting his career as a volunteer firefighter with the Hillsboro Fire Protection District.
Fitzgerald said Wehlage was the fire marshal for De Soto Rural Fire and did a lot of fire safety education in the community.
“He just genuinely glowed when he was helping people or doing PR (public relations),” Fitzgerald said. “He helped with a puppet show that we do at fire prevention.”
Fitzgerald said he never heard the story behind what led Wehlage to become a firefighter, but he’s sure it had something to do with his desire to help others.
“I have to believe that he just genuinely wanted to help people,” Fitzgerald said.
As of this afternoon (July 1), funeral arrangements for Wehlage had not been finalized, Fitzgerald said.