Special gesture comes back around for retiring Del Mar fire captain


After 25 years of dedication to Del Mar, Fire Capt. Patrick O’Neil is stepping down from his post at the Del Mar Fire Department.

In celebration of his service to the community, a special person from O’Neil’s past recently paid him a surprise visit.

During his time with the department, O’Neil has served the community in more ways than one. In addition to fighting fires, he has always looked for ways to give back to others.

About 17 years ago, Del Mar residents Richard and Jackee Earnest contacted the department and asked whether someone could visit a sick child in the hospital. At the time, Richard Earnest was Mayor of Del Mar.

O’Neil not only stepped up to the task, but went to the hospital in full gear to meet 3-year-old Vidal Woody, who had pneumonia.

“I always wanted to be a fireman,” Woody recalled. “He’s been my personal fireman ever since then.”

Now 20, Woody has served in the U.S. Navy for more than a year. On June 24, in full uniform, he visited O’Neil.

“He was pretty sick when I first saw him,” O’Neil said.

The Earnest family, who has known Woody ever since he was a toddler, coordinated the surprise visit.

Jackee Earnest met Woody’s mother, Giselle Flynn, while she was volunteering at the San Diego’s Women’s Center. The two have been friends ever since.

“It was great; it made him so happy,” recalled Flynn, whose son was hospitalized for two weeks.

“Firemen make a difference everywhere,” added Richard Earnest. “But to make a difference in a person’s life like this is completely outside of work, really. They can contribute all kinds of ways.”

Shortly after Woody recovered, he visited his personal fireman at the Del Mar station. Until last week, that was the last time the two had seen each other.

“It’s such a heartwarming feeling to see him — and in his dress whites,” O’Neil said.

After earning a fire science degree at San Diego Miramar College, O’Neil started his career at the La Mesa Fire Department. Shortly after, he came to Del Mar 25 years ago.

His last day with the department was July 5.

“I’ve enjoyed helping people and our community,” O’Neil said. “The job was the best job ever.”