Fallen firefighter Michael Kucsma remembered as an enthusiastic leader, perfectionist and rum-lover

Posted June 21, 2014, at 2:39 p.m.
Last modified June 23, 2014, at 6:10 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A section of Cumberland Avenue was closed to traffic Saturday as family members, friends and co-workers of recently deceased firefighter Michael Kucsma gathered to celebrate his life.

Kucsma, 43, died June 16 of a heart attack while scuba diving.

“I think Mike would be slightly annoyed today to know it’s beautiful out and we’re not all outside and enjoying the weather,” his wife, Marsha Kucsma, said. “It’s the loss of this great man that breaks our hearts, but knowing that he touched so many lives in a good way makes it a little better.”

Kucsma began working with the Gorham Fire Department in 1991, while he was a student at the University of Southern Maine. It was there he met his wife and started his life’s dedication to fire safety. At the time of his death, Kuksma was a deputy chief at the Gorham Fire Department.

“It was obvious from the beginning that Mike was different from many others I had worked with. He had an unbelieveable thirst for knowledge and a desire and drive to be the best he could be at whatever he took on,” Gorham Fire Department Chief Robert Lefebvre said. “For the last 23 years, I watched Mike grow from an inexperienced student into one of the best firefighters I’ve ever had the privilege of working beside.”

He took charge in instruction and was one of the area’s most important leaders and fire safety trainers, according to Lefebvre.

Over the years, Kucsma took on new challenges and was given more responsibilities. In addition to his work at Gorham, he also worked at the Portland Fire Department, which he joined as a firefighter in 1993 and was promoted to captain in 2006. He was assigned to Engine 6 at Bramhall Station on Congress Street in Portland.

“I know there’s going to be a big hole at Bramhall and a big helmet to fill. You guys at Bramhall — if you’re unsure of what to do, I’m pretty sure if you check Mike’s desk. There’s a list of items to do that he left for you,” Portland Fire Department Lt. Ray Smith said with a chuckle, reminding fellow firefighters Kucsma had been nicknamed “Captain Do-Something.”

Smith praised Kucsma for his leadership and kind-hearted nature, having become friends with him while working with him for over 20 years.

“Working with Mike was nothing short of a pleasure,” Smith said. “Mike taught me a valuable lesson back then: It’s not where you work but who you work with. He’s probably the reason why I’m still out there today.”

Smith told stories about Kucsma’s antics around the firehouse, from practical jokes and floor hockey accidents to an awkward experience he had while rescuing a nun from an elevator. He spoke about Kucsma as a perfectionist, noting his need for top-quality ingredients in the firehouse’s kitchen.

“When he decided he liked something, he read about it, studied it, bought all equipment known to man and did it until he was nearly perfect at it,” said Martha Kucsma, speaking about his love for fly fishing, cooking and learning new skills.

According to all those who eulogized Kucsma, he was an avid rum enthusiast.

“It started the night before our wedding, when we were finally allowed on solid ground in Bermuda,” Martha Kucsma said, sharing a story about drinking their first Dark ‘n’ Stormy — a drink made with black rum and ginger beer — together. “This night was not only the beginning of a new life together but a love affair with rum.”

The couple had a collection of well over 100 bottles of rum. She said she used to cringe when Kucsma would ask for a rum selection when they went out dining, as he was very particular with his drinks. When he found out that one of his favorite brands was going to be discontinued, he bought out an entire store of its supply, she said.

“I don’t think there was a drink made with rum that he didn’t know how to make,” Lefebvre said. “Mike loved to party, but all of the parties weren’t really about partying. For Mike, it was about spending time with friends, sharing stories and having fun.”

“He has been a gift to each of you, to all of us,” said the Rev. Philip Sherman, one of the longest serving fire chaplains in the state. “And, on the other hand, all of you have been a gift to him. I think we need to remember that we are all gifts to one another, and Mike Kucsma helps us to remember that.”