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Published: 1/1/2010

Firefighter helped start arson squad in Toledo

William C. Kuhman, 79, a retired Toledo firefighter and arson investigator for the State Fire Marshal's Office, died Tuesday in University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio Hospital.

Mr. Kuhman died suddenly of unknown causes but had a history of heart problems, his wife, Betty, said.

Mr. Kuhman helped develop the arson squad for the Toledo Fire Department after joining the department in 1957.

"He was very good at basically [taking] what would be a pile of rubble to most people and painting a picture from that," his son, Toledo Fire Lt. Thomas Kuhman, said.

He spent the better part of his career on call after hours, and his sleep was interrupted on many nights, his wife said.

"He was called out especially if it was a large fire, or if there was any evidence of arson," Mrs. Kuhman said. "It was just natural for him to be able to detect certain factors of it, I guess. He seemed to be able to pick up on clues."

Mr. Kuhman was born in Toledo in 1930 and served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War after graduating from Libbey High School in 1948.

He was stationed at the former Sampson Air Force Base in Geneva, N.Y., when he met his future wife, who was in college in Geneva.

After Mr. Kuhman served a year in French Morocco, the couple married in 1953.

Mr. Kuhman loved his job as a firefighter and was known for saying, "•'Even a bad day on the fire department was better than a good day at any other job,'•" his son said.

"He just really liked the idea of helping people and the feeling that he got from helping people," Lieutenant Kuhman said. "He would say, 'There's no better job in the world.' And he's right about that. I feel that way."

Before his retirement in 1982, Mr. Kuhman worked on the scene of the Tiedtke's department store fire. The 1975 blaze destroyed the site of the former downtown Toledo landmark, which closed two years earlier.

He later served nine years as an arson investigator for the state.

Mr. Kuhman investigated the massive fire at the former Willis Day Business Center on Telegraph Road in 1985. The fire injured 74 firefighters, police officers, and others, and caused $20 million in damage.

The blaze was ruled an arson and remained unsolved for years.

In 1994, the city paid $250,000 to the insurer of Lane Drug Stores, which lost about $3 million in the blaze.

Mr. Kuhman became a mentor to younger firefighters as an instructor of fire investigation and fire scene photography at Bowling Green State University, the Ohio Fire Academy, the Northwest Ohio Arson School, and professional seminars for emergency responders.

Later in life, he volunteered at the Area Office on Aging with a group of retired firefighters to distribute free cell phones and fire detectors to senior citizens.

He was an avid hunter and fisherman, and years ago enjoyed weekends with his young family at Lake Bartholomew in southern Michigan.

Mr. Kuhman is survived by his wife, Betty, son, Thomas, daughter, Karol Holt, and four grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday in the Bersticker-Scott Funeral Home, followed by a Last Alarm service. Funeral services will be private.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Toledo Firefighters Museum.



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