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Wise brings fire protection experience to Le Mars

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Le Mars Mayor Dick Kirchoff, right, swears in Mike Wise as assistant chief of the Le Mars Fire-Rescue Department Wednesday during a Chamber Coffee at the downtown fire station. Wise has spent the last 20 years working as a firefighter in Red Oak and most recently Omaha, Neb.
As the new Le Mars Fire-Rescue assistant chief, Mike Wise doesn't want to change the department -- he wants to become part of it.

"These guys are very welcoming," Wise said. "I told them I'm going to try to fit into their department."

Wise, who was sworn in Wednesday by Le Mars Mayor Dick Kirchoff, said he is looking forward to serving the community.

"My job is to help keep the city stay safe," Wise said.

He said he plans to use his 20 years of fire protection experience gained while working in fire departments in Red Oak and Omaha, Neb., to do that.

Wise added that he comes from a firefighting family, following in his dad's footsteps.

"I'm a second generation firefighter and my oldest son is the third generation," Wise said.

Looking to advance his career, Wise said he took notice when the assistant fire chief position opened up in Le Mars.

"The Le Mars Fire Department has great respect in the state fire association," he said.

He added that Le Mars Fire-Rescue Chief Dave Schipper and his dad, Wayne, former chief, are well known for their work.

As for Le Mars itself, Wise said he had visited the city back in 2001 when he attended an Iowa Firemen's Convention.

"I just felt like Le Mars is the right fit for my family and I," Wise said.

Growing up and working in Red Oak, a town of about 5,500 people, he's no stranger to working in a fire department in a community the size of Le Mars, Wise said.

"I'm way more comfortable in a smaller fire department atmosphere," he said. "There's more camaraderie."

In addition, firefighters in smaller departments often have a greater understanding of helping their community, Wise said.

"In the bigger departments, it's truly more of a job there," he explained.

He noted that smaller departments like Le Mars do have problems such as having enough volunteers to cover daytime fire calls.

However, as the second full-time day employee in addition to Schipper, Wise said he's ready to take on the challenge.

"Having an extra person available during the day is huge," Wise said. "I'm also here to take some of the pressure off Dave (Schipper). To help him out."

For example, as a certified fire and emergency medical services instructor Wise will be able to teach training classes, and as certified inspector he can do school inspections or liquor licensing, Schipper said.

Tuesday Wise, who is also a paramedic, accompanied Schipper on five inspections for those seeking liquor licenses, the fire-rescue chief said.

"He knew what to look for and that was impressive," Schipper said. "Now he just needs to learn what codes go with what."

Currently Wise, who started July 2, is learning the city streets and how the Le Mars Fire-Rescue Department operates, but he will soon be on scenes of fire calls.

"He's grasped things very quickly, which is a good sign," Schipper said. "After 11 days, I'm very satisfied with his progress."

The ultimate goal is for Wise to be able to take over operations and command crews on scene in Schipper's absence, the fire-rescue chief said.

Schipper said about 11 applications were received for the assistant fire-rescue chief position from four states.

He added that the four finalists, including Wise, were chosen individually by a five-member committee.

Wise's yearly salary of $52,000 was approved by the Le Mars City Council, which also added the assistant chief position for the fire-rescue department earlier this year.

Wise and his wife, Diane, have three children. Their youngest, Colin, will be an eighth grader this fall. The couple's older sons, Chavis and Colby, live and work in Red Oak.

Wise said he's been welcomed by many in the community, which he appreciates.

"Everybody's been very warm, very nice. It's made this transition easy for me," he said. "I feel like this is a great opportunity for my family and I."

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