Denver firefighter John Whelan died in July, two weeks after falling through a skylight on the roof of a building while fighting a fire. The night he died, a group of fellow firefighters had a drink in his honor at Tooey’s Off Colfax, a bar just a block away from Fire Station 8, where Whelan had worked. Bartender Ryan Negley was on duty that night and saw the tragedy as an opportunity to support firefighters in similar situations. Negley organizes an annual fundraiser through the Denver Whiskey Club, a social group he co-founded in 2008, and decided to help honor Whelan's sacrifice.
“After that happened,” Negley says of the gathering he witnessed at Tooey's, “I knew what I wanted to do with our annual fundraising event.” He decided to dedicate the money raised at this year's event to Friends of the Denver Fire Department. The fundraiser will take place Tuesday, December 8, at 6:30 p.m. at Ste. Ellie on Platte Street.
Friends of the Denver Fire Department, created in 2007, provides health and wellness programs as well other programs that increase the quality of life at local fire stations. The event is open to the public and includes a raffle that begins at 8:30 p.m. “How the event works is we gather bottle donations from local and national distillers, line them up, and raffle them off,” the bartender explains. Tickets for the fundraiser are $15 pre-sale ($20 at the door) and include four raffle tickets and a cocktail from Ste. Ellie’s bar.
The whiskey raffle will offer chances to win selections of more than 100 whiskeys. Most of the whiskeys are produced by Colorado distillers, including Peach Street Distillers, 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Co., Downslope Distilling, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, Distillery 291 and Golden Moon Distillery. Other brands donated include Buffalo Trace, Glenfiddich and Laphroaig.
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The Denver Whiskey Club is an educational organization that regularly holds events based on whiskey of all kinds. “The DWC is an education-based club that is all about whiskey,” Negley says. “Our events are based on learning about all things whiskey in a very fun, chill, inviting environment that is open to all. Our take on it is that we spend eleven months out of the year enjoying our whiskey in leisure, and we feel it would be uncouth of us to not return or give back to the community in some way.”
Last year’s fundraiser raised money for Brent’s Place, a local housing facility that provides support for families affected by cancer. As for this year's event, “se’re still collecting donations,” says Negley, who can be contacted at email@example.com. Tickets, along with more information about the event, are available on the Denver Whiskey Club's Facebook page.
Whelan, a fifteen-year veteran of the Denver Fire Department, was investigating a fire on Blake Street on June 28 when he fell; he died two weeks later at St. Anthony North Health Campus. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock asked all Denver flags to be lowered to half-staff during his funeral service.
“John gave his life in the line of duty to ensure the safety of others,” Hancock said. "He died doing what he loved to do: Serving the city of Denver and keeping them safe."