John "Jack" Kuller, 60, who was Lehighton Fire Chief for more than 15 years and a member of the Lehighton Fire Department since 1979, died Friday.

On the website of the Lehighton Fire Department, members under his command wrote that "Jack was the leader many strive to be."

Anyone who has been in Kuller's presence knows the accuracy of that assessment.

Kuller was at the fire company for training sessions virtually every Monday night. You could find him there on Saturday mornings, often helping to wash apparatus.

He attended almost all fund raisers. Members said they don't recall him missing any parade in which the fire department participated.

He was a certified instructor and stressed training, education, and safety.

Kuller attended almost every meeting of Lehighton Borough Council. He was never shy about speaking his mind when it came to the fire department.

As an example, back in February 2010, the borough work force received praise for its plowing of the streets after a snowstorm. Kuller interrupted and stated that the situation could be better; that some streets and alleys weren't cleared adequately enough to allow fire apparatus to maneuver safely in the event of a fire.

A number of years ago, borough officials planted trees along First Street to improve the appearance of the downtown. Kuller took a practical approach and complained that the borough officials didn't take safety into consideration with the plantings and that the fire department should have been consulted. The trees, he said, make it difficult to extend ladders to the upper floors of some of the buildings should a fire occur.

Most recently, Kuller was fighting hard to get the council's blessing for the construction of a new fire station. And, thanks to an unyielding stance, he was successful in gaining some key approvals for the project.

Kuller he was always honest, fair, and understanding.

At fire scenes, no matter how busy he became, he always took time to speak with the news media, giving his brief overview about the emergency. He never brushed-off the media or tried to soften the details.

It was also observed at the scenes of emergencies that Kuller was never too important to get into the thick of things with the volunteers. In fact, his fire company subordinates attest through the website statement:

"He was never afraid to put on the gloves and set an example by working as hard as he expected from his team."

Further testament to his diligence occurred in 2009 when, even though he was the fire chief, he was still selected "Firefighter of the Year" by the Lehighton VFW Post. Members of the department assist the VFW annually with the selection.

James Hauser, a member of the fire department, joined Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 about the same time Kuller did. Hauser recalls that from the very start, most of the volunteers said that if they went into a burning building, Kuller is one partner they knew they could trust to lay down his life assisting them if needed.

Kuller was dedicated and worked hard for betterment of the fire department.

He made a strong effort to retain the volunteerism with the recruitment of young members as junior firefighters.

He "was the leader many strive to be."

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com [1]