Wineka column: Retired NYPD officer an RCCC grad like brother, Vic Isler
SALISBURY — Two decades ago, Michael Isler patrolled some of the toughest streets in New York as a rookie cop.
Later, as a supervising lieutenant, he and eight of his NYPD officers were among the first responders to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Now through the most tragic, yet transforming of circumstances, the 47-year-old Isler is poised to be a rookie officer again.
But this time it’s here, in North Carolina, and he hopes more specifically it will be in Salisbury, the same place where his younger brother, Vic, lost his life as a city fireman four years ago.
“Every day I came into this building, I thought of my brother and this community,” Isler said Wednesday night, graduating from the Basic Law Enforcement Training program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
In his late 30s, Vic Isler, wanting so much to be a full-time fireman again but too old for the New York Fire Department, moved his family south and enrolled in the fire service program at RCCC — this same campus.
“I was totally behind him — the whole family was,” Michael remembers.
The Salisbury Fire Department hired Vic Isler after his graduation, and he was happy — back to doing what he loved. But on the morning of March 7, 2008, the 40-year-old Isler and 19-year-old Justin Monroe suddenly had surging flames and blinding smoke envelope them during a fire that destroyed Salisbury Millwork.
That ugly morning, the two firemen died from heat and smoke exposure in an event that scarred the city and their fellow firefighters deeply.
Michael Isler came to know Salisbury, Vic’s colleagues at the department and the community as a whole through all the tributes, memorials and Vic’s funeral back in New York.
Every year, Michael Isler (and other members of his family) traveled to Salisbury for the March 7 memorial service for his brother and Monroe at the Firefighters Memorial next to Chestnut Hill Cemetery.
With each visit, all the conversations and new friendships, Michael Isler began thinking about making the same move his brother had. “People are so real here,” he said Wednesday.
Having retired from the NYPD, Isler moved his family to North Carolina last year. They live in Harrisburg, about five minutes from his brother Vic’s family.
Michael and Vicki Isler’s 21-year-old son, Michael Jr., has stayed behind in New York and will graduate in late June from the NYPD academy, following in his father’s footsteps.
Their daughter, Gina Marie, enrolled at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where she will be a junior psychology major this fall. Daughter Victoria is finishing up her senior year at Hickory Ridge High School and has been accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Last August, Michael Isler decided he had too much experience in law enforcement not to share it. Plus, he wanted to give back to the community that had embraced first his brother, then his own family.
Isler’s N.Y. certifications had lapsed, and he needed to go through North Carolina’s BLET program. Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell, who attended Isler’s graduation ceremony Wednesday evening, encouraged Michael to follow in his brother’s path and attend RCCC.
“It was all based on Vic and meeting the people down here,” Michael Isler says of, basically, starting over. “What better way to serve the people of Rowan County? We did what we had to do, and these people played a major role.”
Vicki Isler went through 20-plus years of being a cop’s wife in New York, never knowing what a new day would bring for her husband.
But she strongly supports his decision to do it again. She says Michael, who has a master’s degree, is focused, in good shape and wanting to help others.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” she says. “It’s just in his blood. ... This will open a lot of doors for him.”
Michael Isler and the 11 others in his graduating class went through eight months (mostly nights) that encompassed 654 hours, 60 instructors and 36 sections of law enforcement.
Isler was back lifting weights, running 4 miles a day and taking 48 hours of handgun training and eight more with a shotgun.
“It wasn’t easy. It was hard,” Isler said, “but we made it.”
The program culminated in an end-of-block test, followed by last week’s state-administered, 300-question examination covering six different units.
“If they’re graduating tonight,” said Spencer Rummage Jr., director of the program, “they deserve your utmost respect.”
Isler says he intends to start applying for positions at the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office or the Salisbury Police Department. He also sees himself teaching someday.
Isler’s classmates chose him, by far the oldest guy in their class, to be their spokesman at Wednesday’s graduation.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Michael and Vic Isler were close, and they had designs on their respective career paths early on.
“I was ‘1-Adam-12,’ and he was ‘Emergency 51,’ ” Michael says, referring to old television shows.
Each served as best man at the other’s wedding. Michael is the godfather of Vic’s son.
You couldn’t escape the sense that Vic Isler was in the auditorium Wednesday.
In his charge to his classmates, Isler said he was dedicating the night to them, their families and his brother, Vic.
“I have an extended family in this town because of my brother,” he noted.
Isler also told the audience to say a prayer every day for their public servants in uniform.
Whether it’s police or fire.
One Adam 12, or Emergency 51.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.