In his youth, Fire Chief Ken Keiter found work at a grocery store, where he once witnessed a customer suffer a medical emergency. At the time, he wasn’t sure how to help.
“I had no idea what to do,” Keiter said. “I never wanted to have that feeling again.”
Following this event, Keiter turned his attention to firefighting and EMS, never looking back.
After nearly nine years as fire chief in Eudora and 41 total years of firefighting, Keiter is retiring next month. He reflected on how the station has improved during his tenure and how firefighting itself has changed over the last four decades.
In 1980, he joined the Gardner Rural Volunteer Fire Department before moving to the Olathe Fire Department the following year. Having initially retired from Olathe in 2012, Keiter returned to service for Eudora in 2013.
“I missed the fire service, and I missed responding to calls,” Keiter said on his decision to return to firefighting. “I missed working with the people.”
Throughout his 40 years in firefighting, Keiter has seen the field change significantly. Improvements such as air safety equipment have made it possible for firefighters to perform better in higher-risk situations.
“Firefighters take care of themselves better than I think they ever have before through the technology and equipment,” Keiter said.
In his time with the Eudora Fire Department, Keiter is proud of accomplishments for both the city and the station, such as an improved Insurance Services Office (ISO) score for the town’s safety measures and a paramedic ambulance that provides more advanced medical services.
“You always want to leave it better than you found it,” Keiter said.
Another improvement was the expansion of the station’s volunteer program, which now has about 40 volunteers. The department is in constant need of volunteer firefighters and has seen more come along as training programs have increased, he said.
“I hope that they keep growing towards the point of becoming, eventually, a full-time fire department,” Keiter said. “I’d like to see whoever gets the position to continue on and have success in obtaining and recruiting and in the retention of volunteers."
Keiter said he admires the level of professionalism within the department, particularly as a volunteer service.
“The volunteers are the backbone of the volunteer service and the backbone of the first response system that we have here in Eudora,” Keiter said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be delivering the service the way we do.”
Mayor Tim Reazin, a firefighter himself, said Keiter will be difficult to replace, as the chief brought years of experience to the fire department.
“I know what it means to give up your time to a community,” Reazin said. “It’s not just a job. It’s a matter of being a public servant and giving back something more than you probably have to in life, and he’s chosen to do that. I appreciate his time and effort.”
Reazin is on the team working to find Keiter’s successor, with the position recently posted.
“It’ll be hard to find someone that’s got more expertise and abilities and time served than Chief Keiter, but that’s always my hope is that we continue that improvement of services,” Reazin said.
Assistant Fire Chief Chris Hull said Keiter has been a role model and motivator in the years they’ve worked together.
“It takes a strong leader that has some special qualities coming into a volunteer organization and be able to stabilize things,” Hull said. “His humility is what made him good at this because he’s got a lot of career experience, but he’s willing to come in here and learn how the volunteer organization operates, and that’s hard for a lot of people.”
Hull, who hopes to be considered for the chief opening, said whoever takes over should show some of the same qualities as Keiter.
“I hope that we can find somebody who’s got the humility to come in and learn the ropes and see the things that’ve made this department successful and to partner with us and build on that,” Hull said.
Keiter said his ideal replacement is “somebody who’s going to be just like” Hull.
After his retirement, Keiter plans to purchase an RV and travel the country.
The city is planning a retirement reception, with a date and time to be announced in the future.
Reach reporter Emily Binkley at email@example.com.
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