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Wise takes over Ceres Fire Department
• Following long absence, new chief in authority
Chief Ken Wise.jpg
Kevin Wise raised his hand to take the oath of office as Ceres’ new fire chief Monday evening. Mayor Chris Vierra administered the oath. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Ceres Fire Department has been without a chief since the August 2017 retirement of Bryan Nicholes.

The vacancy was filled Monday with the hiring of Kevin Wise, who was previously a battalion chief with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District. Wise was sworn in Monday evening a half hour before the Ceres City Council meeting.

City Manager Toby Wells said the hiring was a “big deal” for Ceres.

“This evening marks for me personally about 18 months of an experience that I won’t ever forget,” said Wells. He cited some “rocky moments” and heated exchanges about the direction of the department when he acted as manager.  Wells said he was “very, very happy to hand off to Mr. Wise.”

He said putting the right person in charge of the department “took a little longer than I would have liked.”

Mayor Chris Vierra administered the goal of office to Wise as wife Tara Wise and other family members looked on.

Chief Wise, a survivor of two cancers in recent years, said he is honored by his appointment among highly qualified candidates.

“I look forward to working with Mr. Wells to progress our fire department into the future,” said Wise.

Wise said his goal has been to become chief of a city fire department and that he accepted the job over the phone without first telling his wife.

“Luckily she said, ‘I’m glad you did it.’”

He said he wants to work to see that the “department’s vision is the same as city leaders.”

Wise was appointed by Wells, a decision that was ratified on Jan. 14 in a 3-2 vote of the Ceres City Council.

A total of 10 applicants sought the position after it was posted in October. Six qualified candidates were invited to participate in the formal selection process and five participated. The five candidates were interviewed by both a technical and citizen panel in a full day and a selection panel with the city manager, mayor and Councilman Mike Kline. Candidates also met with the president of the Ceres Professional Firefighters Local 3636 and informally with several department heads during the day.

“Mr. Wise is a highly qualified professional with diverse experience and background,” wrote Wells in a staff report. “He possesses the technical and managerial skills necessary to provide a high level of leadership and direction to the Department. He is uniquely positioned to hit the ground running and we look forward to this fine addition to the management team.”

Wise has been with Stanislaus Consolidated since July 2012 and was formerly employed with the Oakdale and Woodland Avenue fire departments. He earned his associate degree in Fire Science from Modesto Junior College in 2004 and his bachelor’s degree in Fire Administration from Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose. He also attended the National Fire Academy’s executive fire officer program from 2014 to 2018.

The new chief has he’s been on a rough road with two major health scares that his wife helped him through. In 2011 Wise was diagnosed with multiple myeloma – possibly career related – which he beat through chemotherapy. In September 2015 doctors learned that he had Acute Myeloid Leukemia, or AML. After additional rounds of chemotherapy he was given a bone marrow transplant in 2016and is in remission.

“At the time I felt like I didn’t have a future and my wife, she did what she usually does, she kicked me in the butt and said, ‘We’re going to fight this and yes, you do have a future.’ I’m here tonight because of her. Put your goals out there and work hard for them.”

Wise is being paid a salary of $10,506 per month and will be eligible for a 1.5 percent raise on July 1 and one on July 1, 2020.

During the Jan. 14 ratification vote, Councilman Channce Condit and Vice Mayor Linda Ryno voted against the majority of Councilman Bret Durossette, Mayor Chris Vierra and Councilman Mike Kline. The no votes came following a discussion prompted by Condit who wants that prospective managers to be asked if they would consider living in Ceres during the interview process. City Manager Wells replied that the question would be crossing the line legally since it is considered discriminatory.

Wise lives in west of Carpenter Road, only minutes from Ceres.