Mike Ortelle, a longtime firefighter and Petaluma Police Department chaplain, died surrounded by his wife and children on Jan. 2 after a battle with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 56.
Born April 14, 1960, Ortelle began working as a truck driver and spent time as a limousine driver and a mechanic, before a 26-year career as a firefighter. He served the community at Wilmar Volunteer Fire, Mill Valley Fire, Alto Richardson Bay and Southern Marin Fire Districts.
After retiring from the fire service, he became a police chaplain for the Petaluma Police Department, serving with his brothers in blue up until his very last days. He also served his church at Calvary Chapel Petaluma for many years.
Ortelle had always had a strong desire to serve as a firefighter, and he found an opportunity to train as a volunteer, and attended fire academy, where he not only became a regular firefighter but also an academy instructor. He also trained as an emergency medical technician, eventually earning a spot as a regular firefighter in Southern Marin.
Ortelle told the Argus-Courier in an interview last year that, in 2009, he began to notice that he was losing “grip strength” in his hands, which made handling fire hoses difficult for him. Further muscular weakness ensued, and it took 18 months of doctor visits and tests before he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.
Ortelle often spoke publicly of how his faith and the generous assistance of the community helped his family cope with his illness. Sidelined from his job, he taught first aid and CPR courses. A deacon for 15 years with Calvary Chapel, he became a reserve police chaplain.
Ortelle is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and their children, Danielle Keen, Angela Jarrett, Michael Ortelle, Jr., Julia Myers, Maria Ege, Melissa Ortelle and Hannah Ortelle. He is preceded in death by his beloved son, Matthew Thomas.
Donations may be made to Calvary Chapel Petaluma to fund a scholarship in his name.