In public, Lehighton Fire Chief John "Jack" Kuller Jr. had a no-nonsense approach regarding the borough fire department. He fought hard for improvements for his firefighters. His most recent endeavor was heading a campaign to erect a new firehouse.
Privately, Kuller was described by his peers in the fire service as someone who enjoyed a good time, and at times was even a jokester.
On Friday, Kuller, 60, was found dead in his residence by his son, Joshua.
Chief Deputy Coroner James Hauser, who served in the fire department under Kuller, said he died of natural causes.
A procession of firefighters and apparatus will be part of his funeral service on Wednesday.
Wayne Nothstein, who preceded Kuller as fire chief and who remains active in the fire department, said firefighters will gather in full dress uniform by 8 a.m. at the Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 building Wednesday morning.
They will proceed with apparatus and as a marching unit to the Ovsak Funeral Home, Fourth and Iron streets, where calling hours are set from 8:30-9:30 a.m. They will then proceed to Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 242 N. Third St., Lehighton, for a Mass of Christian Burial.
En route to the service, they will pause for a moment of silence in front of the fire station, then again at a Fireman's Monument in the Lehighton Park.
The Mass at the church will be conducted by Kuller's brother, the Rev. Thomas J. Kuller of Baltimore, Md.
At the entrance to the Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, aerial trucks of the Lehighton and Walnutport Fire Departments will form an arch, with black bunting hung on the ladders.
Gary Frable, assistant fire chief, said he anticipates attendance from numerous fire departments at the services. He said the ladder truck from Walnutport will take part because Kuller had relatives in Walnutport.
Frable will retain the title of assistant chief. The next line officer in command after Frable is Pat Mriss, fire company captain.
The fire company will be meeting in the near future to discuss a new chief and then make a recommendation to Lehighton Borough Council, which will then name Kuller's successor.
There likely will be young firefighters taking part in Wednesday morning's procession.
At a time when most fire companies were losing volunteers, the Lehighton Fire Department's roster increased. That's because Kuller was largely responsible with implementing a junior firefighter program that recruited the younger members.
Nothstein, who resigned as chief in the summer of 1995 to become the emergency management agency director in Carbon County, said there was a program in place for volunteers 18 years of age and older. Kuller reduced the age limit to 16.
Kuller joined the Lehighton Fire Department in 1979, under Chief Edward Conarty Jr., which was also about the time Hauser joined the department.
"They lost a good man," Conarty said of Kuller's passing.
Conarty recalled that when Kuller joined, he was gung-ho for the department immediately and never changed that attitude.
"He was really all for the fire company," Conarty commented.
Back then, there were two fire companies in Lehighton: Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 and Engine Company 2. Conarty said Kuller supported him on merging the companies.
"He was instrumental in it becoming the Lehighton Fire Department," said the former chief.
"He was a good guy. He was very instrumental in getting courses set up for the members," Conarty said, pointing out that Kuller stressed training and education for the members.
Of the present fire department personnel, Conarty remarked, "All those men are certified in practically everything. It's a great fire department," stressing that much of the credit goes to Kuller.
Conarty said something he admired about Kuller is that they could disagree on things but still remain friends.
"We didn't always see eye-to-eye, but we always went away on the right foot," he stated.
Hauser said he was stunned when he was called to Kuller's residence on a coroner call.
"One thing about Jack is he never held a grudge," said Hauser.
Hauser said the thing he remembers most from they days they first joined the fire company is that Kuller was a dependable partner.
"All the guys would say that if they went into a burning building, the one person they would want behind them is Jack," stated Hauser. "He was very reliable."
Another attribute of Kuller, said Hauser, is that if he saw his guys needed equipment to make conditions safer, "he would do whatever was necessary to get it."
Hauser echoed Conarty's assessment, too, in that Kuller "was very strict on training and certifications."
Nothstein said he and Kuller were certified state instructors in firefighting.
"Jack and I taught several courses together," Nothstein said.
It was noted by Nothstein that Kuller was active in both the Carbon County Firefighters Association and the Four County Firemen's Association.
He said, "I can't remember Jack missing a parade" that had fire department participation.
"Dedicated" was a word Nothstein used to describe Kuller, and said because of this, "he's going to be missed."
"It's really a loss for the fire department," Frable said.
The assistant chief added, "He has been pushing for a new fire station for years."
Frable said he and Kuller worked very closely.
He laughed when reminded how serious and determined Kuller was in public, noting that at fire department-related events, he was a lot of fun; someone who knew how to have a great time.
In 2009, Kuller was honored by the Lehighton VFW Post as its "Fireman of the Year."
A statement on the website of the Lehighton Fire Department, regarding the death of Kuller, states:
"The Lehighton Fire Department mourns the loss of our Chief, John "Jack" Kuller, Jr., on April 22, 2011."
It adds, "Jack was a great friend to many and was always good to offer a story of good times he had with the fire department. Jack was a great leader who was always willing to offer assistance and advice to his subordinate firefighters. Jack was the leader many strive to be.
"He was never afraid to put on the gloves and set an example by working as hard as he expected from his team," says the website post.
"The town of Lehighton lost a great member of its community and a dedicated firefighter. Jack will always be remembered for his laughter, his jokes, and the tireless dedication he gave to make the Lehighton Fire Department an example to the firefighting community."
It concludes: "Rest easy 501 and look upon us as we continue to follow the path you had started."
The reference to 501 was the numerical identification he had, especially for dispatching purposes.