David Wheeler of the Upper Arlington Fire Division has been named the 2009 Liberty Mutual Firefighter of the Year.

David Wheeler of the Upper Arlington Fire Division has been named the 2009 Liberty Mutual Firefighter of the Year.

He was presented with the award and a resolution during Monday night's regular meeting of Upper Arlington City Council.

Wheeler has been an Upper Arlington firefighter since September 2002. A native of Millersburg, Ohio, he began as a volunteer firefighter 20 years ago in Holmes County.

"I knew some men from my church who were volunteers," Wheeler said. "I'd see them get up and run out during a sermon and I thought, 'That's something I'd like to do.'"

Wheeler's colleagues in the Upper Arlington Fire Division nominated him for the Firefighter of the Year Award, which has been sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance since 1986.

"When you're chosen and selected by your peers, it means they have a lot of respect for you," said Fire Chief Mitch Ross. "Dave is one of those exceptional employees that you just love to have on your department. He's a very good people person, with his co-workers and with the residents. He's one of those guys that people just love being around and puts off a very positive image for the fire division."

Prior to becoming an Upper Arlington firefighter, Wheeler was employed by Riverside Hospital as a patient care technician and administrative coordinator. Before that, he was a firefighter with the Lima, Ohio, Fire Department.

Becoming a firefighter was "something I thought about as a kid, but I don't know that I always had my heart set on it," Wheeler said. "After I started, I couldn't see myself doing anything else."

Wheeler's current assignment is on Medic 71 at the Arlington Avenue fire station. He has received 12 public commendations for his performance on emergency runs.

"He's very technically competent," Ross said. "His attitude is always upbeat."

Wheeler, who holds a bachelor's degree in Spanish from Otterbein College, has assisted the Upper Arlington Clerk of Courts by working as a translator. Being bilingual has also been an asset in his work as a firefighter, Wheeler said.

"Providing emergency services, every now then we'll run on people who don't speak English," he said. "Having the language skills definitely comes in handy."

Helping people in need is the most rewarding part of his job, said Wheeler, who lives in Centerburg with his wife, Robin, and their three children.

One of the most memorable moments in his career came recently, he said, when he and his colleagues helped a woman and her teenage son escape a house fire in the early morning of Oct. 21.

After being awakened by their dogs and then a fire alarm at 12:30 a.m., Amy Armstrong and her teenage son, Benjamin, of 1996 Chatfield Road climbed onto a second-floor deck. Upper Arlington firefighters placed a ladder and assisted them to the ground. Both Armstrongs were uninjured.

"It was rewarding to be able to get those people down," Wheeler said. "Their house burned down, but their lives are going to go on.

"Every firefighter understands there is some danger inherent in the work, but it's a risk worth taking," he said. "Sometimes you encounter dangerous situations but when you can get out and save a life, it's well worth it."