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City will honor longtime fire chief as he says goodbye

He said he was going to retire "in a year" more than two years ago, but next week, Ken Kuchera will make good on his threat and leave the Farmington Fire Department after nearly 38 years of public service.

Kuchera began his career with the Farmington Fire Department in December, 1971. He ends it next Wednesday, April 15. In honor of his years of service to the community, the Farmington City Council has proclaimed that day Chief Ken Kuchera Day in Farmington.

Besides his long career with the department -- as far as current chief Tim Pietsch knows, Kuchera has served longer than any other member in the department's history -- Kuchera spent 20 years of that career as fire chief, stepping down from the post a little over two years ago. Pietsch figured the department should honor a colleague, friend and leader, so he asked the council to formally recognize Kuchera.

"For somebody to put in that much time and devotion, I thought it would be appropriate," Pietsch said.

His father's footsteps

The son of former mayor Eugene "Babe" Kuchera, Ken grew up with connections to the fire department. Babe Kuchera served on the Farmington Fire Department for 34 years, including three as assistant chief and five as chief. Ken's uncle and cousin also served.

In 1969, Ken Kuchera got his first taste of fire service when he started managing a wastewater system in Burnsville. The job required him to become a firefighter, which he did. Two years later, he left Burnsville and ended up joining the Farmington Fire Department.

The younger Kuchera was elected assistant chief for the first time in 1977. A few years later, in 1985, he was elected as chief for the first time. He was re-elected by the department membership several times, until he finally decided to step back from the post in 2006. The position was strictly volunteer.

Kuchera was also involved in the county and state fire associations.

"Ken was very active and very involved," Pietsch said. "He really helped to mold where we are at today, both in the Farmington fire service and in Dakota County."

Not only was Kuchera a leader in organizations outside the fire department, he was one inside, as well. Pietsch noted that some of today's younger members were not even born when Kuchera started with the department, but many of those same newer members know and respect Kuchera for his knowledge and contributions. Perhaps more importantly, Pietsch said, Kuchera helped to train Pietsch for his charge, as well as all of the other members who now hold top positions on the force.

"He pretty much touched all of the officers we have down here. He had a little hand in molding all of us," Pietsch said.

A party

To honor Kuchera, a retirement party has been planned for his last day as a firefighter. The party will be held 2 to 5 p.m. April 15 in the lobby of Farmington City Hall. It is open to the public -- friends, firefighters, and anyone who wants to just stop by and say "thanks." Refreshments will be served.

Pietsch and Farmington fire marshal John Powers have invited all of the fire departments in Dakota County, as well as folks from many of the other branches of emergency services. It is Pietsch's hope people will come down and help Kuchera reminisce about his days of service.