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'There are no words': Family of fallen fire rescue captain gets mortgage paid off

'It has made such a difference in our life, just knowing that our home is going to be our home forever,' Julie Wolnewitz says
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Posted at 1:07 PM, Jul 09, 2024

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — "Be a Brian." That’s the phrase family and friends of Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue use both on and off the job.

Richard "Brian" Wolnewitz devoted more than two decades of his career to the Palm Beach Gardens Fire Department. The fire rescue captain passed away nearly two years ago, at 44 years old, after his battle with lung cancer.

"It was extremely overwhelming," said Julie Wolnewitz, Brian’s wife. "Financially it was really hard. It was already a burden as soon as he was diagnosed. On top of that, now I’m working full time. I’ve got four kids, one going into college. It was very overwhelming to even think about."

After his diagnosis, he made it his mission to raise awareness of the dangers firefighters face every day, including the inhalation and absorption of toxins. Julie Wolnewitz said it was her husband’s passion to serve and never let his diagnosis affect him, his family, or his career.

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Julie Wolnewitz talks about her late husband's legacy and shares how the Tunnel to Towers Foundation has helped her family tremendously.

"He never was a selfish person," she said. "So, I don’t think it ever crossed his mind to make it about me and he never had that woe is me, poor me."

New York-based foundation Tunnel to Towers recently paid off the mortgage on Wolnewitz’s Jupiter home. Now, the Wolnewitz family no longer has to worry about future payments.

"It has made such a difference in our life," said Julie Wolnewitz. "Just knowing that our home is going to be our home forever. It was a dream that Brian and I had when we signed the papers for the house. To know that his ultimate sacrifice, was recognized by people that don’t even know us, there really are no words."

Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue also dedicated one of their fire trucks a few years ago to Wolnewitz.

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Cory Bessette, assistant chief of operations for Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue, explains the character of Brian Wolnewitz and his contributions to Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue and the community.

"You could see that he truly took his job seriously here," Cory Bessette, assistant chief of operations for Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue, said. "Not just, because it was a job or career. He was built for it. He was meant for it."

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation is an organization dedicated to supporting and assisting families of both law enforcement officers and firefighters who were killed in the line of duty.

"It’s all about giving a little bit of stability to these families and that’s a very important thing that we concentrate on," said John Huvane, VP of the Line of Duty team. "We can’t give them back their loved one but we can definitely help them move forward with knowing that their children will always have a roof over their head."