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Three years ago, a firefighter stared down leukemia. Now, he’s the chief in Ceres

Battalion chief gets bone marrow transplant

Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Battalion Chief Kevin wise discusses battling leukemia and the bone marrow transplant he received in January (Erin Tracy/etracy@modber.com)
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Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Battalion Chief Kevin wise discusses battling leukemia and the bone marrow transplant he received in January (Erin Tracy/etracy@modber.com)

Kevin Wise has become the fire chief in Ceres, eager to serve after beating leukemia.

He took the oath of office at Monday night’s City Council meeting, three years after a bone marrow transplant that put the disease in remission.

The Modesto Bee reported on Wise’s ordeal while he was a battalion chief with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District. He returned to work six months after the transplant, rather than the year or more that the doctors predicted.

“A few years ago, I didn’t think I would be here, and here I am today,” Wise said in a phone interview Monday. “I am very blessed.”

Wise, 46, will make $126,072 a year under the contract approved by the council. The chief’s post was vacated by the retirement of Bryan Nicholes.

Wise was raised in Salida and started his career with the Oakdale Fire Department in 2005. He said he looks forward to working on the strategic plan for the Ceres department, which has 28 firefighters at three stations.

Wise was one of five candidates selected to interview with technical and citizen panels. City Manager Toby Wells said Tuesday that he was impressed with his “personal ethics and integrity and his ability to work collaboratively.”

Wise was diagnosed in 2011 with multiple myeloma, another blood cancer. It went into remission, but the intensive chemotherapy caused the leukemia, detected in September 2015.

Wise received the marrow transplant at Stanford University Hospital in January 2016. Many of his relatives, friends and colleagues had signed up on a donor registry, but the donor who matched him turned out to be a stranger. That person declined to meet the recipient.

Wise helped organize two marrow drives while waiting for his transplant. He later raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by taking part in the 2017 version of the Firefighter Stairclimb. Participants ascend 69 flights of stairs in a Seattle skyscraper in full turnout gear. Wise will take part once again on March 10.

“It’s kind of my way to pay back for all the help they gave me,” he said.

John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.
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