Lehigh Valley first responders mourn John Kalynych: Firefighter, emergency director died Sunday

Fire departments and EMS around the Lehigh Valley expressed sadness after the death last weekend of a former county emergency management director and veteran of several local units.

John Kalynych, 50, of Hellertown, the former head of Lehigh County Emergency Management, died early Sunday at St. Luke’s University Hospital in Fountain Hill. A procession of emergency vehicles escorted Kalynych’s remains from the hospital to the coroner’s office on Sunday.

With a wealth of experience, Kalynych always had high expectations for his teams but would never hesitate to share his knowledge, Lehigh County Special Operations Coordinator Kevin Kratzer said of his former colleague, describing his “humble confidence.”

“He was amazing to work with,” Kratzer said. “He always had a smile. Even when he was trying to tell you you were doing something wrong, he would do it with a smile.”

John Kalynych procession Aug. 27, 2023

A procession escorts the remains of John Kalynych, a former Lehigh County Emergency Management Director and figure within the Lehigh Valley’s emergency services community, after his death Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023, at St. Luke’s Hospital in Fountain Hill. He was 50.Mike Nester | lehighvalleylive.com contributor

Though individuals were generally reluctant to talk so soon after the shock, numerous units posted their condolences online.

“John’s impact and legacy will never be forgotten,” the Catasauqua Fire Department and Lower Saucon Fire Rescue said in identical Facebook posts listing Kalynych’s long list of roles.

He was a retired deputy fire chief for Catasauqua and current safety officer in Lower Saucon. The posts also say he held a number of roles in Hanover and Bethlehem Township volunteer fire companies, worked part time with the district attorney’s municipal emergency response team, instructed at Bucks County Community College, and previously was on state and federal urban search-and-rescue teams.

His time with Lehigh County Emergency Management began in 2003 when he was a part-time member of the county’s special operations team. Starting in 2010 as a full-time member, he oversaw hazmat and technical rescue operations. He became director in 2019, overseeing the county’s 911 center. He retired in 2020 and joined the DA’s office in 2021.

“John was an asset to the County and a major supporter for all first responders in Lehigh County/Northampton County; Special Operations, 9-1-1 Communications Center, Fire, Emergency Medical Services and Law Enforcement,” the county emergency management office said in a statement. “His presence will be missed!”

Lehigh County Coroner Daniel Buglio on Monday indicated a cause of death is still to be determined. Services have not yet been announced.

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office said it will order flags lowered for Kalynych.

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Steve Novak may be reached at snovak@lehighvalleylive.com.

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