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Longtime fire chief Ken Kuchera dies

Ken Kuchera was Farmington's fire chief for more than 20 years.

Farmington's firefighters have a lot of planning to do this week. Come Friday, Station 1 will likely be flooded with people, as the department and the community say goodbye to a friend and colleague.

Longtime Farmington fire chief Ken Kuchera died Sunday, June 6, following a lengthy battle against colon cancer. He was 63.

A man whose family has a history of giving to the community, Kuchera was no exception. He joined the Farmington Fire Department in December, 1971, after serving as a firefighter for two years in Burnsville. He retired from the fire service in April, 2009.

To many, he's known for his active and visible presence on the fire department, yet he was also a father, a brother, a husband and a neighbor. His daughter, Theresa Warner, remembers him as a principled man who did his best to instill positive attributes in his children and as a father who was proud of his daughters, and a grandfather who doted on his grandchildren.

"He loved his grandkids, that's for sure. He just couldn't get enough of those boys, he just loved them so much," she said.

Warner saw a side of Kuchera that wasn't always in the newspapers, or cloaked in turnout gear. Still, she knew he had a presence in his community, although sometimes, she might have not fully understood what kind of man he was outside of home.

Recently, Warner was told a story about her father. How one day several years ago, there was a young boy who was burned in a fire. Kuchera's heart went out to the child. To cheer up the lad, Kuchera bought fire trucks for the boy.

"I thought that was pretty cool," Warner said. "As a child, you don't really realize the things that your parents do, but then you hear all these other really cool stories later."

Kuchera was an avid fisherman, and had served in the military, as well.

A mentor

Not everyone knew those sides of Kuchera, though. Most people knew him from the more than three decades he'd served on the Farmington Fire Department.

Kuchera's decision to become a firefighter may have been spurred by a requirement for a job he'd taken with the city of Burnsville, but it's also possible the skill was simply in his blood. His father, Eugene "Babe" Kuchera served on the Farmington Fire Department for a number of years, five of which he spent as fire chief.

Current fire chief Tim Pietsch saw his friend and mentor for the last time Saturday. Since learning of Kuchera's death on Sunday, Pietsch has wandered down memory lane more than once.

"I worked under him, side by side with him, for almost 30 years. I could call him for guidance on whatever," Pietsch said. "I'll never forget my first year (as chief). I was so overwhelmed, but I could call Ken and ask him a couple of questions, and he'd be so calm and patient with me and answer all of my questions."

Kuchera became an assistant fire chief in 1977, and was elected fire chief for the first time in 1985. One of his first tasks was to plan and oversee the construction of Fire Station 1 on Denmark Avenue. Before his retirement from the chief's position in 2006, he was active planning Fire Station 2 on Pilot Knob.

Over the years, Kuchera left his footprints all around the fire halls. He was the guy who pushed for Farmington's fire colors to be blue and white. He was instrumental in negotiating the purchase of many of Farmington's fire rigs, including his favorite, Engine 1. On Monday, Pietsch pointed out the "new" hoses on Engine 1. Kuchera believed the department should have plenty of hose available, so that hose on the rig was actually purchased while he was still chief.


Ask anyone who knew him well, and somehow, they'll all describe a man who paid close attention to details. His sisters use words like "hard worker," "witty," "scheduled," "helpful" and "dedicated" to further describe Kuchera.

But the one word everyone seems to agree on was "meticulous."

"When it came to the fire hall, he did such a good job," Pietsch said. "He'd check and recheck everything. Nothing ever got by the man. He was always on top of everything, and everything always fell into place."

People often turned to Kuchera for advice, his sister Mary Jo Thelen said. If he didn't have the answer, he always carried a notebook, and generally, in that notebook, he had someone he could call to find that answer.

He loved helping his parents, and he loved his community, but he also loved his time away, fishing with family in the Mille Lacs area.

"He was just a man with many hats. There wasn't anything he couldn't do," Thelen said.

Saying good-bye

Kuchera died Sunday with Warner and his wife, Elizabeth, by his bedside. It was the end of a nearly five-year battle that he fought all the way. Even one of the nurses caring for him understood that.

"She said, 'He has a fireman's heart. They always fight,'" Warner said. "That was just such a good way to put it. He fought to the end. He really did."

Kuchera is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; daughters Theresa (Kyle) Warner and Melissa (Joe) Biebighauser; grandchildren Brekken, Chase and Samantha; sisters Judy (Dennis) Pilger, Nancy Asher and Mary Jo (Dan) Thelen.

Visitation for Kuchera will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 10 at Farmington Lutheran Church, and one hour prior to the funeral Friday. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. at Farmington Lutheran Church. Directly following the funeral, a luncheon and memorial service will be held at Fire Station 1. Interment will follow at Corinthian Cemetery.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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