Sunday, November 30, 2014

Donald "Donnie" Wendt First Responder's Life Remembered

Wounded Times
Kathie Costos
November 30, 2014

Donald Wendt was a firefigher in Bradenton Florida. Yesterday his life was memorialized by an overflow of family, friends and firefighters.

Bradenton Herald Obituary
Donald "Donnie" Wendt
Has left this world to move on to a better world. He is survived by his father, Robert Wendt and his wife, Carol; mother, Mary Maloney and her husband, Dennis; daughter, Ashley Wendt Steele, her husband, Robbie, their daughter, Abbie and baby Steele tbd; sisters, Deborah Wendt, Carolyn Sherry and her husband, Ken. A; nephew, Eric Wendt and his wife, Allison. His second family, the Bradenton Fire Department and a multitude of friends. He will be remembered for his sense of humor, his passion for his job, his example to others, his love for his daughter, his bravery, his willingness to risk his life for others and his loyalty to others. He was a wonderful son, father, brother, "Happy" and friend. This world will never be the same but Heaven has gained a Valiant Angel. We love him. A Celebration of his Life will be 2:00PM, Saturday, November 29, 2014 at Brown and Sons Funeral Homes and Crematory 43rd Street Chapel, 604 43rd Street West, Bradenton, FL 34209. Memorial donations to Paws for Vets.

This was the headline of his life coming to an end
Officer fatally shoots firefighter brandishing guns

It is how most people will remember when they hear his name.
MANATEE COUNTY - A Bradenton firefighter who had been honored for his service in Operation Iraqi Freedom was shot and killed by a city police officer Sunday night after the firefighter reportedly approached officers brandishing two handguns.

At 9:30 p.m. Sunday, neighbors called police to report that Donald Wendt, 50, was outside his home in the 3300 block of Oxford Drive waving a weapon and threatening to kill himself and his sister.

A SWAT team and hostage negotiators were summoned. Wendt was inside when police arrived, so officers set up a perimeter and evacuated people from nearby homes.

Team members were trying to contact Wendt by phone when he re-emerged from the home and pointed a gun at police.

Bradenton Police SWAT Officer Jason Nuttall — a 15-year veteran — fired one shot at Wendt, a firefighter/engineer for the Bradenton Fire Department. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting.

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said Wendt served two tours of military duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom and may have been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“It's a terribly tragic situation,” Radzilowski said. “Police officers are upset, firefighters are upset. It's just something you never want to see happen.”

But as with everything else, there was so much more to the story that was not reflected in the headline.
Wendt joined the Bradenton Fire Department in December 2003 after volunteering with Cedar Hammock-Southern Manatee while working at Ten-8 Fire Equipment.

A year later, he spent 13 months in Iraq with the United States Army Reserve. Wendt received a Bronze Star Medal for his efforts.

On May 13, 2005, as a recovery section sergeant with HHC Platoon, 1st Battalion, 103rd Armor and Task Force Liberty, Wendt “went to the aid of a fellow soldier who was injured and trapped under a burning vehicle during a Vehicle Born Improvised Explosives Device attack,” according to the U.S. War Office. He used tow chains to move the burning vehicle away from the injured soldier.

Don's life meant so much more to those who knew him. I listened to family members and another firefighter along with a Chaplain talk about the man behind the headline.

They said he was always there when they needed him. He always wanted people to be happy and did whatever he could to make them laugh. He was also there to listen. The problem was he didn't want to talk much about himself. They saw him troubled but as he would start to open up, he would soon change the subject.

Don was rare. He risked his life as a firefighter as well as a soldier because that was what he was put on this earth do to. Yet it was that very quality within him that caused the pain and made him feel as if he didn't want to burden anyone with his own troubles.
Bradenton resident Jeremy Hillengas, who said he's known Wendt for about eight years, reconnected with him Sunday at a local bar, and last saw him around 7 p.m.

“He didn't talk crazy or seem to have any issues,” Hillengas said. “It was a total shock. I was with him literally hours before it happened, and I've been thinking 'Did I miss something,' but there were no signs.”

There were signs but no one knew what those signs meant. While PTSD has made national news long enough for people to know the term, few know what it means.

Wendt joined the Bradenton Fire Department in December 2003 after volunteering with Cedar Hammock-Southern Manatee while working at Ten-8 Fire Equipment.

A year later, he spent 13 months in Iraq with the United States Army Reserve. Wendt received a Bronze Star Medal for his efforts.

On May 13, 2005, as a recovery section sergeant with HHC Platoon, 1st Battalion, 103rd Armor and Task Force Liberty, Wendt “went to the aid of a fellow soldier who was injured and trapped under a burning vehicle during a Vehicle Born Improvised Explosives Device attack,” according to the U.S. War Office. He used tow chains to move the burning vehicle away from the injured soldier.

Wendt volunteers with the Bradenton Fire Fighters Association at the annual Community Haven holiday event, received the BFFA Above and Beyond Award in 2005 and was awarded the BFD Distinguished Service Medal in 2008.

Bradenton city councilman Gene Gallo summed it up in the interview with the Herald Tribune.
Gallo said he knew Wendt, who volunteered for a second tour overseas. Gallo has not had a chance to talk to Wendt's family or his fellow firefighters.

“It seems like every day you read about this, but when it hits home, it's different,” Gallo said.

It is different because you know the person far beyond what the headline says about them.

Family members are devastated and so are firefighters. We can only imagine what the SWAT Team is going through. When I got the news from his Mom Mary in an email, my heart grieved. I knew Mary from Facebook but we hadn't met until yesterday. I only knew about Don through what she was willing to share, or should I say, what she was able to share.

It is hard to grasp the complexity of symptoms to distinguish the difference between what life does and what PTSD does. We may interact with someone wondering when they turned into a jerk because we don't know how to wonder what happened to them that turned them into one.

With PTSD, if they don't tell you they are in turmoil, there is no way for you to know why they act the way they do.

When they don't have the professional help they need, they usually find they have no outlet to open up, so they shut down. These folks are not like the rest of us. They are the people who get things done, show up ready to sacrifice their lives if need be and they are actually first responders in every part of their lives.

When you read about them, remember Don's story and then know we have to try harder to help them understand that asking for help is the right thing to do so they can stay here and help more of us afterwards.

The military makes it harder for them to seek help especially when a General came out and said,
Some of it is just personal make-up. Intestinal fortitude. Mental toughness that ensures that people are able to deal with stressful situations.

And then went on to say it had to do with not having a supportive family. I saw his supportive family yesterday and they included about 100 firefighters. I heard how much intestinal fortitude he had and he showed it in Bradenton as well as Iraq.

It is not the fault of the family, or his firefighter family or those who served with him unable to attend the memorial because of weather. It is the fault of military leaders not understanding those who serve under their command.