Myrle K. Wise
Myrle K. Wise

March 14, 1918 - November 14, 2016
Resided in Denver, CO
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WISE, MYRLE K. 1918-2016 Myrle K. Wise, age 98, of Denver. Retired Chief of the Denver Fire Dept. Preceded in death by wives Evelyn Holland Wise and Mina Coffey Wise, stepson Wayne Coffey, grandson Greg Wise, and five siblings. Father of Alan Wise and Diane (Nelson) Bonnell. Stepfather of Ray (Janice) and Lee (Sara) Coffey. Brother of Donald (Lynn) Wise. Grandfather of Gary Wise, Denice Gavigan, Byron and Brett Bonnell. Step grandfather of Jennifer Nakata and Chris Coffey. Great grandfather of 7. Brother-in-law of Dorothy Peters and Fran Brummel.

Interment at Crown Hill Cemetery. Memorial donations to Denver Fire Museum, c/o denverfirefightersmuseum.org; Denver Fire Fighter's Orphan Fund, c/o Denver Fire Dept. Federal Credit Union, 2201 Federal Blvd., Denver, CO 80211; 3 rd Christian Reform Church, 2400 S. Ash St., Denver, CO 80222. Please share condolences at HoranCares.com.

A visitation will be held on Monday, November 21, 2016 from 3:00 to 7:00 PM at Horan & McConaty Family Chapel, 3101 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Lakewood. Funeral service will be held Tuesday at 10:00 AM. Interment to be at Crown Hill Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations are suggested to Denver Fire Museum, c/o denverfirefightersmuseum.org; Denver Fire Fighter's Orphan Fund, c/o Denver Fire Dept. Federal Credit Union, 2201 Federal Blvd., Denver, CO 80211; 3rd Christian Reform Church, 2400 S. Ash St., Denver, CO 80222.


The following article originally appeared in the 2016 edition of Life Care's LEADER magazine and is being reprinted with the permission of Life Care Centers of America.

Eighteen-year-old Myrle Wise and his father, John, surveyed the city of Denver, weary from their journey from Turpin, Oklahoma.

The duo were on a mission to find a new home for their family, which included Wise's mother and six siblings. It was the Dust Bowl, and the dirt had wreaked havoc on the Wise farm in Oklahoma.

"There were seven of us all fighting for food," Wise, who was the oldest boy in the family, remembered. "The Dust Bowl took it all away."

Arriving in Denver in their 1935 Ford, it seemed that the men had found what they were looking for.

"Denver was so green they thought they were in heaven," shared Ray Coffey, Wise's stepson.

Wise returned to the farm and packed up the family while his father stayed in Denver to prepare for their arrival. Everyone moved out to Colorado except for one sister, who stayed behind to keep an eye on the farm. Family members piled into the car and headed out. Wise remembers one of his brothers putting his feet on the windshield and knocking the glass out.

Wise's father got a job at Baur's Candy, and Wise went to work there too. He soon had his first chief position: chief ice cream maker!

Not long after the family's move, Wise met a special young lady, Evelyn Holland, through some friends. The two fell in love and got married in 1938, right after Evelyn graduated from high school. They went on to have a son, Alan, and adopt a daughter, Diane.

In 1940, Wise left Baur's and became a salesman on a bakery truck. In 1941, he changed jobs again and made fan belts for the Gates Rubber Company during World War II.

Wise knew he was capable of more, however, and he set his sights on becoming a fireman.

He applied himself to learning as much as he could about the career. Because he had never had the chance to go to college during the Great Depression, he took advantage of the training provided at Opportunity School in Denver. Opportunity School offered free classes in many occupations for individuals who otherwise couldn't afford higher education.

With his sharp mind, Wise learned quickly and thoroughly. He sat for his exam and not only passed but placed in the top six scores, which earned him a place in the Denver Fire Department. He reported to the station for the first time on May 7, 1943.

As a new fireman, Wise put in 24-hour shifts every other day. The department stayed busy, and he loved putting out fires and helping others in tangible, often life-saving ways.

Wise quickly became respected for his efficiency at fighting fires, as well as his charisma. During this time, he took a year (April 1945 – April 1946) to serve in the United States Navy as a seaman first class, training officers in Great Lakes, Illinois, and Memphis, Tennessee, how to fight fires on their ships.

In 1948, Wise again studied at Opportunity School for his chance at a promotion, and again he passed his exam with flying colors, earning the rank of engineer. He continued to put out fires fast, and he was well known as a man who could fix the equipment with ease.

Wise's commitment to the community extended to giving back to Opportunity School, and in the late 1940s he started teaching classes in civil defense.

He rapidly moved up the ladder in the department, being promoted to lieutenant in 1950, captain in 1953 and assistant chief in 1956.

Though he was high in demand, Wise made family a priority.

"We were always really close," said Diane Bonnell, Wise's daughter. "My father was a fabulous man, and my parents were good about doing family things together."

Bonnell has fond memories of going shopping with her father, as well as many camping trips and vacations. Wise took many videos on these occasions. At home, he helped his children with their homework.

"Everything seemed to come naturally to him," Bonnell remembered.

The family was sometimes afraid for Wise when he went out on calls, however, and for good reason: some of the blazes were downright dangerous. Several major fires took place at the Ace Box Company over the years, and large buildings such as hotels and even a flour mill were the scenes of destruction. Sometimes chemicals were involved. The fire department also battled an arson ring for several years that targeted local construction projects.

One fierce fire in particular injured Wise badly.

"My mother got a call that my father had been in a serious accident," Bonnell remembered. "He was in a fire, and the roof had fallen in. There were three other firemen who were in the building. They were killed, but my father was saved from this fire."

Wise added, "I had to fight my way out. It hurt a little, but I made it."

Thankfully, he made a full recovery.

Wise's work in the department involved more than fighting fires, though. He was often called on for rescues and medical care.

When Bonnell was very young, Wise was on duty at the local rodeo when the wife of one of the cowboys went into labor. They tried to get to the hospital, but they couldn't get there in time, so Wise helped deliver her baby.
Bonnell remembers another incident closer to home. "Some lady came driving down the street, and she was drunk, and she hit something in the road," said Bonnell. "She flipped the car right in front of our house, and it slid down the hill, and I can remember my father going out and rescuing her."

Of all the ordeals he went through, Wise considers the most difficult task during his service
"saving people who didn't want to be saved." In the 1960s, a man was trying to commit suicide by jumping from a roof. Wise got up on a ladder, grabbed him from behind and brought him down to safety.

In 1970, Wise sat for the civil service exam to select the Denver Fire Chief, and he earned the coveted position by acing the test with a grade of 94.997. The next-highest score was 86.

Wise was the last Denver fire chief to earn the rank by civil service. Since his retirement, the fire chiefs have been appointed by the city mayor.
Any firefighter in Denver today can tell you that Wise is a legend. He implemented many changes as chief and served as a mentor and leader to his crew. He ordered the first use of self-contained breathing apparatuses in April 1971, and he was supportive in the move to implement wide usage of smoke detectors. He also helped start 911 service for the area, replacing the old alarms that were placed around town in public places.

"Call 911, and away we come!" Wise said of the motto his team used.

Always a people person, Wise made sure that others had equal opportunity for a career in firefighting.

"He appointed the first woman firefighter, Heather Larson, to the DFD," shared Jerry Michals, volunteer researcher for the Denver Firefighters Museum. "He also started programs working with minority groups to make the staffing reflect the community."

Wise boosted morale in the department. Reducing the work week from 56 hours to 48 hours in 1974 certainly helped.

An article in "Class Acts: Stories from the Emily Griffith Opportunity School" by Carolyn Brink, sheds further light on Wise's impact:

"In 1969, the city's department was nationally rated dead last, based on criteria such as the department's ability to put out fires and staff morale. Myrle set out to raise this abysmal rating. He devised a plan so every Denver citizen would be within a minute and a half of a fire station. This meant tearing down old fire stations and building new ones in underserved neighborhoods. He was able to accomplish this solely through cost savings, without going to the voters for bond elections."

Over time, Wise raised the DFD's rank from last place to first in the country!

Wise had a very big year in 1976. He moved the Denver Fire Department headquarters to a new building and helped save the old building, which became the Denver Firefighters Museum. He was also named president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs that year.

In that president role, and outside of it, Wise's impact reached far beyond Denver. He traveled the world, including Japan and Germany, training other firefighters. Wise met many people in his travels, including the mayor of Chicago and Gerald Ford.

"I went to Washington, D.C., to teach all the firemen how to do it," Wise said. "I showed them how to put out fires fast."

In 1987, Wise retired after 44 years in the fire service and 18 years as chief. The DFD held a farewell party for him.

"Everybody came," Wise said, "and we enjoyed it."

Sadly, Evelyn passed away in 2006, but Wise found a companion again in Mina Coffey, Ray's mother. The Wises and the Coffeys had been friends for many years, and when Myrle and Mina both found themselves parted in death from their spouses, their friendship blossomed into something more. They tied the knot on Valentine's Day 2008 and were happily married until Mina passed away in February 2015.

Wise had some health setbacks after Mina's death, and his family knew he needed more care. At 98, he is now a resident at Life Care Center of Aurora, Colorado, where he continues to make an impact on those around him.

"He encourages everybody," said Michelle Williams, activity director at the facility. "A lot of times he'll just sit there and say, 'Thank you, Lord!' He's the sweetest, kindest man."

As Wise looks back on his life, he has a lot to be proud of. But when you ask him about his greatest achievements, it is his service to others he talks about.

"Being a good firefighter," he said, "and being a good husband and father. Those are the two best things I could do."


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Services

Visitation
Horan & McConaty - Wadsworth
3101 S. Wadsworth Blvd.
Lakewood, CO US 80227
Monday, November 21, 2016
3:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Service
Horan & McConaty - Wadsworth
3101 S. Wadsworth Blvd.
Lakewood, CO US 80227
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
10:00 AM