Firefighters, police officers, medical personnel, and hundreds of community members turned out on Friday, September 30, 2022, to honor Michael Thomas Kuntz. A solemn procession through the streets of Great Falls led to the Civic Center for a public memorial service.
Kuntz passed away on Tuesday, September 20, 2022, following a three-year battle with cancer, at the age of 49.
Great Falls Fire Rescue said that Kuntz's positive attitude and work ethic were legendary among firefighters across the state: "Mike was well known for being one of the most positive, hardworking and uplifting people to be around."
Great Falls Fire Rescue Chief Jeremy Jones reminisced, “I was very fortunate to work with Mike for over 18 years. Mike was probably the most positive, get anything you needed done type of person there was.”
Battalion Chief Jay Jarrett shared his memory of Kuntz: “Mike was a firefighters' firefighter. He got along with everybody. He brought people together. He was he was the glue, the fabric that holds everybody together.” Adding, “He never let cancer rule his life.”
The two held back tears. Showing strength in a time of grievance for a friend, colleague, and mentor. As the two both shared, he was a strong individual who was a leader. Cancer truly never defined his life. Up until his death, Mike was in the gym, what Jay calls, “Throwing weights,” and being an inspiration to those around him. Staying in shape was his way to show that nothing could stop him.
We previously reported on Kuntz completing an October American Cancer Society Burpee Challenge in November of 2021. A goal of 25 burpees each day for 31 days, setting an initial fundraising goal of $600 and nearly tripling the amount raised at $1,600.
“He would be in the gym, everyday… putting everybody to shame. I mean, the poor guy… he was an inspiration for everybody, a good role model… even facing the challenges that he was every day, he didn’t show it.” Said Jarrett.
A testament to who he was on the force.
“He was a leader no matter what his title said. Was always willing to help out, help out the community, help out the volunteer and charitable organizations at this department and union supports…” Shared Chief Jones.
Captain Kuntz was born and raised in the community in and around Great Falls, and the opportunity to serve as a first responder allowed him to give back. The community around him, according to Jones was the best place for Kuntz and his wife, Donelle to raise a family. The importance of community surrounding his circle, ensure that he gave back to the neighbors that raised him.
The rainy Friday was spent amongst brothers at Fire Station 1 in Great Falls, which would include the fire engine red urn, that held the remains of brother Kuntz.
The firefighters dressed in their formal uniforms to transport Kuntz in a ceremonial procession from Station 1 to the Civic Center. High ranking colleagues of the captain transported the family in modern and vintage engines and ladder trucks. The family which included his children, grandchildren, and his wife, Donelle who sported a fire engine red overcoat, were greeting by all branches of first responders at the Mansfield Theater. They were ceremonially escorted inside where they were greeted and saluted by other law enforcement, military, and civilians.
The impact Kuntz’s career had on his life was summarized in listening to his final radio call.
“Great Falls Fire Rescue Captain Mike Kuntz… No response.”
An emotional distribution of seven folded American flags to immediate family members, all followed with a respectful salute.
The final tribute, the ceremonial bell ringing that signifies when a firefighter is killed in the line of duty. A celebration of life, service, and a man who gave his all for his community.
The obituary for Kuntz states: "Mike embraced his true passion and began his 18-year career with Great Fall Fire Rescue. With his ability to connect with any person, from any walk of life, along with his caring nature, he was destined to be successful. Mike loved his time as a fire fighter and excelled at every position he held, climbing through the ranks quickly and retiring as Captain."
Mike is survived by his wife, Donelle Kuntz; children, Taylor and Tia; grandchildren, Hudson, Tatum, and Wren; mother, Nancy Howell; sister, Sheri Yeager; mother-in-law, Lorrie Hardy (George Fultz); grandparents-in-law, Don and Sharon Howarth; godchildren, Hannah and Jace Pimperton; stepmother, Shirice Ivers; step-siblings, and many dearly loved uncles, aunts, and cousins, extended family and friends.
From November 2021