Montana born and raised, Daniel Merritt was a military man, a firefighter, a father, and a friend.
“He was friends with everybody. He was always smiling, always telling stories,” recalled Blaine Cowan, current battalion chief with Missoula Rural Fire District.
On January 3, 2021, Merritt was shot to death by his 22-year-old son, Colton Merritt, who was later charged in the shooting.
Merritt’s death sent shockwaves through the community. As a former member of the military and recently retired firefighter, Merritt was known for his years of public service.
He died tragically, and he died too soon, but the life of a public servant is never forgotten. And in this case, his life will be celebrated for years to come.
This cold, January weekend, against a Montana backdrop, Daniel Merritt’s legacy was honored in a ceremony fit for a hero. The memorial service began with a procession of police, fire trucks, and EMS. Flags were presented to the Merritt family from military and fire honor guards, and a giant flag hanging from the entrance of Ogren Park signified an honorable occasion.
Cowan met Daniel Merritt 25 years ago. He told MTN News that Merritt was an integral part of the fire department, and he played a key role in coordinating for the regional hazardous material team, but Merritt really began serving long before his time with the fire district.
“He was in three different branches of the military,” said Cowan. “Prior to being in the fire department , his last military stint was with the Montana Air National Guard as an aircraft firefighter over there in Great Falls, and then he progressed through the ranks. When he retired just about a year and a half ago, he was a battalion chief with the Missoula Rural Fire District.”
Beyond the uniform, those who knew Merritt knew him as the ultimate outdoorsman.
“He spent a ton of time camping and snowmobiling, side by side four wheelers, just about any machine or whatever he could get ahold of,” said Cowan. “That was his passion, just getting out and experiencing Montana. He’s a Montana kid, always has been.”
For friends and family, Daniel Merritt’s legacy will live on.
“I know that I speak for all of us that we miss Danny to no end, and we will continue to miss him, but we're definitely gonna celebrate him, especially when the summer weather hits and we can go out and do some camping and playing and all the things he used to love to do with us,” said Cowan.