If there’s one thing you needed to know about Chuck Rich, it’s that no one out-Chucked Chuck.
“Chuck was known for making sure he stood out — all the way down to his flamingo belt and holster,” his mother, Melissa Rich, said. “He was such a unique person in every single way. … He had a heart of gold. He never met a stranger in his life. He was such a genuine friend to anyone that he really did love.”
Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department Engineer Charles “Chuck” Rich, 35, died in an off-duty accident Saturday, Oct. 29.
Chuck Rich leaves behind his father, David Rich; his mother, Melissa Rich; his brother, Josh Rich; the mother of his children, Liz Horn; his two children, Noah, 8, and Amelia, 5; and his dog, Diesel.
WEST ORANGE WARRIOR
Chuck Rich was born Oct. 20, 1987, at Winter Garden Hospital. He attended West Orange High School and participated in a wide variety of sports, focusing mostly on lacrosse and band in high school, before graduating in 2006.
Chuck Rich played the trombone, and Josh Rich said he always had to make sure his instrument stuck out in a different way.
“He had to have the silver one while everyone else had the brass,” Josh Rich said. “He wanted to stand out. When everyone started to get the silver instruments he wrapped his with electrical tape in school colors to make it look different.”
Chuck Rich was a member of Westwood Church since he was in the fourth grade. He still prayed before every meal.
Chip David, his youth pastor, will be officiating Chuck Rich’s service.
Melissa Rich said David was proud of the men Chuck Rich and Josh Rich grew to become.
In June 2008, Chuck Rich began his career with the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department.
He grew up around the fire station with his father, a 32-year firefighter at the Reedy Creek department who inspired him to pursue the career.
The boys visited the fire station every holiday, sharing prayers and meals with other family members at the department. They learned about the brotherhood.
The community meant everything to Chuck Rich, which is why he knew he wanted to stay with a local department.
“It was one of those things where he was like, ‘I want to live in Winter Garden,’ and then once he got hired on with them, he saved the money to be able to do so,” Josh Rich said. “He wanted to live in Winter Garden and also protect the people that lived in Winter Garden. He was very much a ‘firefighter’s firefighter.’”
Chuck Rich loved driving the fire truck and proudly told people when he was promoted to engineer.
Josh Rich said his brother had 980 hours of overtime alone this year.
“He loved the fire department that much,” Josh Rich said.
He was finishing up his courses to take the test for lieutenant — an achievement he undertook at the encouragement of his fellow firefighters. He had one semester left.
Fire Chief Jose P. Gainza Jr. said it has been a tough week for the department.
“I have a lot of young firefighters who were close to Chuck,” he said. “They not only lost a friend; they lost a family member. It is a tough thing to deal with, when you lose a part of your family, your fire department family. As a young man, Chuck grew up in the department. In his 14 years here, he has established himself as a ‘firefighter’s firefighter.’ Always training to be the best firefighter he could be. Most importantly, sharing that knowledge with all of the other firefighters. He loved being a firefighter and he was preparing himself for future opportunities.”
Melissa Rich said her son loved just about anything that had to do with people. Her husband agreed, saying his son’s generosity was among his most admirable qualities.
“He would do whatever he could to help whoever needed it,” David Rich said. “He was always willing to give you the T-shirt off his own back.”
Chuck Rich met new friends everywhere he went, including a new friend he met at the airport bar only a few months ago.
Josh Rich and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lanaford, said it didn’t matter what time or where he was. If you called, Chuck Rich showed up.
Chuck Rich was protective and proud of his brother and made sure to always include him in everything — even his motorcycle group chat in which Josh Rich was the only member who didn’t ride a motorcycle.
“It didn’t matter, because we were still brothers,” Josh Rich said. “Chuck would tell people, ‘That’s my little brother, and you’re not allowed to touch him without asking me.’”
On top of his family and work, Chuck Rich loved guns, cars and motorcycles. He loved attending car shows and owned 10 drivable vehicles. He also had plenty of project pieces.
Nobody touched Chuck Rich’s motorcycles or cars. If he didn’t know how to fix something, he would learn how to do it.
As part of his father’s upcoming retirement, scheduled for Jan. 31, 2023, Chuck Rich surprised him with a 1969 Ford truck — “three on the tree,” the same car he had previously owned growing up. The father and son were to restore the truck together, a task Josh Rich will now take on.
“It was from Chuck, and being that he’s not going to be here now for when he retires, it’s going to mean that much more,” Melissa Rich said.
More than 1,000 people — including six fire departments and some police departments — are anticipated to attend Chuck Rich’s service next week.