Clinton fire chiefs

Former Clinton fire chiefs (from left) John Hulten, Gary Thoms and Russ Luckritz are shown with current chief Mark Regenwether. Hulten died Sunday in Texas.

In the wake of his death, Clinton fire officials past and present are remembering John Hulten, a former Clinton fire chief, who died Sunday at the age of 86.

Though he long left Clinton behind in favor of a Texas retirement, his friends and former colleagues said he left it a safer place, due to his innovations in the department.

Current Fire Chief Mark Regenwether said Hulten was a pioneer in the department. Through Hulten’s efforts, the first fire marshal was appointed, and the fire prevention and investigation bureau began.

“That was a huge step in changing the trend,” Regenwether said. “Instead of responding to fires we could prevent fires in the first place.”

Cliff Peters was Clinton’s first fire marshal. He worked alongside Hulten for most of his career, with both men joining the department in 1952. He said that Hulten was very focused and driven, and wasn’t one for self-promotion.

“He wasn’t much for touting his own things that he did,” Peters said. “He just went ahead and did them. He was a good chief.”

Hulten was also responsible for some major advancements in the city’s ambulance service, according to Regenwether. Prior to changes instituted by Hulten, firefighters needed only first aid training.  Because of his efforts, all Clinton firefighters are trained paramedics, a certification they have to retain throughout their careers.

“He was a real believer in the ambulance,” Regenwether said.

Russell Luckritz, a retired Clinton fire chief, was hired by Hulten years ago. Luckritz said that Hulten is one of his favorite people to talk about, and that “there’s not a negative thing I can say about him.”

“John was a guy, what you saw was what you got,” Luckritz said. “No frills about him.”

He called Hulten the ultimate professional, and that his word was his word.

But that didn’t mean he was above having a little fun. Hulten was an “accomplished photographer,” and had a soft spot for the kids.

The fitness-focused Hulten was known for biking to and from work. Every day he would pass school children at play, who eventually made siren noises as he passed.

“Here comes the fire engine, they’d say,” Luckritz said. “And it was John on his bicycle.”