In 2001, right before June Kuhn died, she told her son, Warren Kuhn Jr., a story he would never forget.
“Back in the volunteer days, in 1974, we used CB radios for the department, and everybody had a base station in their house, where people could listen in and wives could listen,” Warren Kuhn Jr. said. “If there was a call in the middle of the night, my dad and I would go out the door, and my mom would stay in bed.
“But in 2001, she told me she would get up and listen to the radio until we made it back to the station, to make sure we were OK. That brought tears to my eyes when she told me that, “because she said, ‘I just didn’t have a husband gone. I had a husband and a son gone,’” Kuhn said.
After serving with the Bryant Fire Department for 14 years, Kuhn officially retired earlier this month. For the past 22 years, he also served as a volunteer firefighter for the city of Haskell, where he lives.
“Forty-four years is a long time for anything, especially the line of work we are in,” Bryant Fire Department Chief J.P. Jordan said. “It can be challenging sometimes and take a toll on you, both physically and mentally.
“I’m proud that Warren has put his time in and can now move on to the next chapter of what life has in store for him and his family.”
Lt. Craig Hicks, who works for the Bryant Fire Department, said he has known Warren for 14 years, and said he is one of those guys who always came in with a good mood and was always ready to work.
“He is very knowledgeable and has a pretty wide knowledge base,” Hicks said. “Having worked as a volunteer and as a firefighter in the Air Force, he brought a lot to the table as far as the job is concerned.”
“Forty-four years is a long time, and it is time for the young kids to take over,” Kuhn said. “At the beginning of August, I went to a shed fire, and the heat just killed me.
“It is time.”
Kuhn began his career in 1974, when he was just 14 years old. He and his dad, Warren “Pete” Kuhn, lived in the Salem community in Saline County, and his dad decided he was going to go to the local fire department and see if they needed volunteers.
“He asked me if I wanted to go up there with him, and we talked to the fire chief and asked if they needed volunteers,” Kuhn Jr. said. “Then the chief looked at me and said, ‘What about the boy?’”
Kuhn said he wasn’t supposed to fight fires or ride the trucks, but that didn’t happen. His first fire was the following week. His dad and another volunteer had jumped on the back of the pumper and said, “Jump on.”
“The lights and the sirens — it was just awesome,” Kuhn said. “Your adrenaline starts going, knowing you are going to a fire — that got me hooked right there.
“When we got to the fire, my dad pulled one hose, and I pulled another, and my eyes got big. I’m out there at 14 years old, fighting fires. I was hooked.”
At one time, Kuhn’s son, Warren Kuhn III, was also a volunteer at the Haskell Fire Department. Kuhn Jr. said he worked alongside his son for his first fire. And in 2004, Kuhn Jr.’s stepsister Shanna Kuhn joined the Salem Fire Department as a volunteer, and he got to work alongside her for her first fire, too.
“Between me and dad working my first fire together and getting to work with them for their first fires, it was awesome,” Kuhn said. “Not too many firemen get to do that.
“I was standing there, watching my son going through the front door of the house, and I was just proud.”
Hicks said 44 years can take a toll on most firefighters, but he said Kuhn has a lot of support from his family.
“I have heard stories about what he has witnessed and what he has seen,” Hicks said, “so it is important to have family and friends, and especially the guys that you work with, to kind of lean on.”
Kuhn, 58, lives in Haskell, but as a military brat, he went to three different high schools. His last high school was in Grand Junction, Colorado. When he was a senior, his girlfriend at the time worked for a GED program, and she asked him to come “show me how smart you are.”
Kuhn said he took the test, passed and ended up with a GED in 1979. He joined the United States Air Force as a firefighter the same year. While in the military, he volunteered for two fire departments in Colorado, while he was stationed there.
“In 1964, my dad was stationed in France, and one day, my mom took me to the fire department at the base and put me in the driver’s seat,” Kuhn said. “I was only 4 years old, but I looked at her and said, ‘I am going to drive one of these one day.’
“That’s when it started for me, I guess.”
In 1991, Kuhn got out of the military and returned to Salem. For 16 years, he was a volunteer team leader for the Saline County Disaster Action team for the American Red Cross. His first major disaster was in 1997, when an F5 tornado hit the East End community.
“If someone calls 911, their whole world is breaking down,” Kuhn said. “Being a firefighter, you are there to correct everything and help these people out because they don’t know who else to turn to.
“We go in and help them out, whether it be a fire or a medical call, or whatever.”
“Fourteen of those 44 years were spent here, serving the citizens of Bryant and Saline County,” Jordan said of Kuhn. “I’ve been able to work the past six years alongside him.
“He has also served many years on the Haskell Fire Department on his days off. That’s a lot of fire in your life.
“He is active in the historical society, and we are planning to still work together on a project or two. I have appreciated his perspective and input along the way.”
Kuhn was appointed to the Haskell City Council after former official Hal Baker died, so Kuhn said he is spending a lot of time with that. He also said he is donating a building to the city of Haskell, a museum, where he will contribute some of his fire memorabilia.
“That has been taking up a lot of my time,” Kuhn said.
He was also recently hired by the city of Bryant for a part-time job with the parks department as a laborer.
“I just didn’t want to sit at home,” Kuhn said.
“I know he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren and had talked about finding a part-time job to occupy his time,” Hicks said.
Kuhn was recently recognized at a Bryant City Council meeting, where he was given his badge and old helmet.
“It was awesome; it was great for the guys to do that,” Kuhn said. “To be recognized by your peers for your years of service — it is like being recognized by your second family.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.