By Allen Edmonds
After nine years with the Belton Fire Department, then an all-volunteer outfit, it was high time Kirt Denkler start getting paid for the time and effort he had given to keeping the small community safe, Belton aldermen decided in 1971.
So Leo Mosby moved that an ordinance be drafted to hire the 31-year-old Belton High School graduate at a wage of $559 per month, the same wage a probationary police officer received, so long as he also agreed to keep the City Hall lawn mowed.
Aldermen S.L. Bradley seconded the motion, while Melvin Bass, Thad Corder, Barker Lane, Elmo Seymour, Jake Jones and Leonard Rudroff agreed to unanimously support the measure.
Denkler died Saturday at his home in Belton at the age of 83.
In his time, Denkler had already seen tremendousby the time he was named chief. When he began as a volunteer in 1962, the fire trucks were housed at the rear of Old City Hall, near the present-day stage of the Main Street Theater. He remembered three trucks – a new Ford that was purchased in 1964 and well-used GMC and Dodge trucks.
\“We had those three trucks and only one door,” Denkler told Jack Lindberg of The Star Herald on the occasion of his 20th anniversary as paid chief. “If that one in the middle didn’t start, we had to push it out. It happened two or three times.”
He recalled that the volunteers were called or assembled for duty by sounding the city siren.
Both the fire and police department headquarters were moved to the former Fleetwood Chevrolet building in the 200 block of Main Street in the early 1970s, and the department’s new facility at 223 Main became operational in the late 1980s.
He oversaw the conversion of a small volunteer outfit to a fully computerized fire department with paramedics and hazardous material certification by the time he retired in 1998. He remained well known in the community and especially in fire department lore for decades after his retirement, however. He was seldom called by his name, “Herman K,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of nicknames. Some you can use in the paper, some you can’t,” he told Lindberg. “My check is made out to Herman K.”
Denkler was a proponent of yellow fire trucks, a somewhat unique distinction Belton’s department was known for up until the last decade. He told aldermen early in his run that his research had indicated the color was far more visible, especially at night.
And, according to one colleague, Curt Huckshorn, in a 1998 letter to the editor published in the Star Herald, he and others designed and installed a new upgraded water system for the downtown business district on weekends for only the price of materials.
He was also known for modifications he designed and executed on firefighting apparatus that improved the effectiveness of the city’s new professional force.
And in later years, he was known for the garden he and close friend Jerry Duvall raised together on the plot of land near Commercial and Cedar streets. “We give most of it away,” Denkler told Lindberg. And, he said, “I go fishing when I have a chance.”
Denkler was born on June 3, 1940, to Herman and Nellie Denkler. He married Nancy Denkler in 1974 and they were married for almost 50 years. He enjoyed spending time outdoors, gardening, fishing and spending time with all his children and grandchildren. He also loved telling stories, especially old fire and fishing stories.
Denkler is survived by his wife Nancy; his five children, Curtis Denkler and wife Rose Denkler, Teresa Dupepe and husband Nick Dupepe, Charlie Denkler, Melissa Denkler and Corey Hummel, Laura Denkler and Drew Wriston. He also had several brothers and sisters, 12 grandkids and many great grandkids.
A Celebration of Life will be held from 1-3 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13, at McGilley & George Funeral Home, 611 Chestnut, Belton. Inurnment will follow in the Belton Cemetery.