John Kalynych, ex Lehigh County emergency management director, dies

John Kalynych, a former Lehigh County director of emergency management and longtime Lehigh Valley emergency responder died Sunday at St Luke’s University Hospital in Fountain Hill. He was 50.

Kalynych, of Hellertown, had several roles in emergency services outside of his director position, including coordinator and chief of Lehigh County Special Operations, part-time employee of the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Municipal Emergency Response Team and deputy chief at Catasaqua Fire Co., according to Lehigh County Emergency Management.

“In the almost 20 years that John spent with Lehigh County; his passion helped to position public safety as one of the highest-rated services available to our citizens. His determination and dedication to the development of the Public Safety Training earned our tremendous respect,” Lehigh County Emergency Management said in a statement Monday.

Kalynych began his career with Lehigh County as a part-time team member of the county’s special operation unit from 2003 until 2010. He became the team’s full-time coordinator in 2010 before being promoted to the director of county emergency management in 2019.

In that position, he oversaw the 911 communications center and the county’s emergency management. He retired from the position in 2020, and then joined the DA’s office in 2021.

At the time of his death, he was a safety officer for Lower Saucon Fire Rescue.

The fire company posted on its Facebook page that Kalynych is a lifetime member of both Hanover and Bethlehem Township fire companies, where he served in different leadership roles. He also served the United States as a member of the Federal Urban Search and Rescue Team as well as the state’s USAR team, according to the post.

“John was passionate and dedicated to training and not only served his departments on the local level, he traveled around the region as a Fire/Rescue Instructor for Bucks County Community College. John’s experience and knowledge was in not only firefighting, but technical rescue and hazardous materials,” the post reads in part. “John was a proud father. In addition to his sons, he was a friend and mentor to hundreds of Emergency Responders across the state.”

Kalynych was a firefighter who helped crews clear up the scene of Concept Sciences building explosion that killed five in 1999.

He was one of four firefighters who helped rescue a survivor who was trapped under the wreckage. The 20,000-square foot plant in Hanover Township was destroyed in the explosion, which was the equivalent to 800 pounds of TNT.

Kalynych, interviewed in 2019 while he was Lehigh County’s special operations team coordinator, said the county committed more resources and improved its emergency preparedness, including adding a haz-mat department, after the 1999 incident.

“The response capabilities have been enhanced considerably since Concept Sciences,” he said at the time. “We are in a much better place to respond to something of that magnitude today.”

Kalynych’s death Sunday prompted a number of condolence messages from different Lehigh Valley emergency services over social media.

“John was a wealth of knowledge in the leadership, rescue, and hazmat community, and was a friend and confidant to many,” City of Allentown EMS posted.

Gov. Josh Shapiro ordered flags to fly at half-staff in Northampton County to honor Kalynych.

Kalynych was pronounced dead about 6:40 a.m. Sunday at the emergency department of St. Luke’s Hospital, Bethehem, according to the Lehigh County Coroner’s Office. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday to determine his cause of death.

Service arrangements have not yet been announced.

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