Eudora News & Information ~ www.eudorareporter.com
Ken Keiter has been the Eudora fire chief for just over a year. He celebrated his first anniversary by fighting three house fires, one in Eudora and two in nearby rural areas, in just eight days during January’s most frigid weather. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, but it’s one that Chief Keiter loves.
Keiter, 52, started out as a volunteer firefighter in Gardner in 1980. The following year he began working for the Olathe Fire Department where he spent the next 31 years of his career. He retired last year.
Retirement didn’t set will with Keiter, and after just nine months he began looking for a chief position. One opened up in Eudora at just the right time and he got the job.
“When you’ve done something like being a fire fighter for that long, it’s amazingly difficult to stop,” explained Keiter. “It’s in your blood. I’ve done a 360—I started out as a volunteer and now I’m chief of a volunteer department.”
And he couldn’t be happier about it. Keiter began his job in Eudora while the new Public Safety Building, which houses the Eudora Fire Department, was under construction. He is very pleased with the facility and its amenities, and is grateful that the community is so supportive of the department.
Being the fire chief of a town, even a small one, is a big job. It’s not unlike running a business. He is responsible for the overall coordination and management of the department. Chief Keiter coordinates training and scheduling of the 24 volunteers and employees, orders necessary supplies and medical equipment and makes sure that the trucks are maintained. He does strategic planning to achieve the goals the city wants to accomplish while anticipating the growth of Eudora so that future demands are met.
“We provide the best possible service we can,” stated Keiter.
The fires he and his team have fought recently have been grueling. With temperatures hovering around zero, the spray from the hoses froze on the firemen and their gear, making everything heavier and heavier. It made it hard to move or bend. He described it as feeling like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz but without a can of oil. Fighting fires in extreme heat and humidity is equally difficult. But the Eudora firefighters do it without complaint, and Chief Keiter is amazed at the dedication and hard work of his people.
Keiter and his team do other things besides fight fires. Recently they gave an AED (automated external defibrillator) training class for a group of seniors at the Recreation Center. Because of a grant from LMH, they’ve been able to install 70 carbon monoxide detectors in Eudora homes at no charge to the homeowner. Chief Keiter has applied for another grant to continue the program which he hopes will someday include smoke detectors as well as the ones for carbon monoxide.
The biggest fire danger in homes according to the fire chief is improper use of space heaters, and all three of the recent home fires involved a heating device.
“Space heaters need space,” said Keiter.
Fires often start when flammable items are too close to a heater. Chimney fires are another concern. Because creosote can build up in a chimney over time and cause a quick and dangerous fire, he recommends having chimneys checked and cleaned regularly. Keiter said that the best fire prevention of all is to have smoke detectors throughout the house, check the batteries monthly and replace batteries yearly.
Chief Keiter hopes to grow the department to 30 firefighters soon. The department has had a good response to its search for new volunteers and has more applications than they have open positions.
Right now Keiter and his wife Liz still live in Olathe, but they are hoping to move to Eudora. They have two grown children, a son, 26, and a daughter, 24.