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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A man retired from the Pleasure Ridge Park fire district Thursday after nearly 40 years on the job. The one thing that stopped him from fighting fires is the same thing that firefighters call inspiring.
"He made his impact on anybody he came in contact with," says Chief Vincent Smith of the PRP Fire District.
Charlie Wheatley started in April of 1973 as a fire radio dispatcher. Years rolled by, with crews fighting the flames. Then one day his job changed, moving up the ranks.
"I worked under four fire chiefs during my career," says Wheatley.
The promotion brought mounting recognition, and by age 62 Charlie Wheatley was an institution.
PRP Fire Marshal Connie Sparks says "There's still people that were on many years ago and they say, 'Whatever happened to Charlie?' and I say, 'He's still working.'"
It's not the job that has colleagues calling Major Wheatley an inspiration. As he explains, that job is to "oversee day-to-day operations and I do data entry."
It's how he did it. "With the Cerebral Palsy," he says, "I have no muscle control in my legs."
Chief Smith says, "He never complained and would always come to work on time and would give 100 percent to the fire district."
Sparks adds, "I think that nobody thought he could do the job like he did."
Wheatley explains, "I have obstacles and challenges I have to overcome. To me, I'm not handicapped just because I can't get up and walk."
Wheatley may have never been in the field fighting the flames, but for the last 14 years he's been the backbone at the PRP training center -- the glue getting thousands of firefighters through training. He says, "I tell them that I don't feel like as big a part as they are, but they tell me I am because I do help them put it together."
And for that, he received thunderous applause and a standing ovation. The emotion he felt on this last day? "Bittersweet. It's going to be rough, because this had been home away from home....There's a feeling that comes within your soul and in your mind that you'll know when it's your time."
He continued: "This chapter of my life is closing, but then there's another chapter to open up."
Wheatley says it's getting harder for him to get around, especially in the cold. He's going to check out Florida and if he likes it, retire there with family.