A fallen friend, leader and hero

Facing a fire is intimidating, says Paul Dabbs. The 64-year-old volunteer firefighter remembers the first one he was called to. But knowing that his friend and fire chief Kurt Gantner was there made it much easier...

Facing a fire is intimidating, says Paul Dabbs.

The 64-year-old volunteer firefighter remembers the first one he was called to.

But knowing that his friend and fire chief Kurt Gantner was there made it much easier, said Dabbs.

The two men, who moved with their wives into the community of Tagish at about the same time, have fought fires together for the past six years.

On Monday night, they were called to another major blaze.

It would be the last one they fought together.

Early Tuesday morning, the fire was finally doused after the house had been reduced to ashes.

After some sleep, Gantner took some family members to the airport and started heading to his meeting with the fire marshal, said Dabbs.

He never made it.

The fire department’s modified pickup sped off the road and into the brush only one kilometre from the fire hall. Gantner, 49, was the only one in the vehicle.

Autopsy results are expected later today, the territory’s corner said.

But knowing the exact cause of his death doesn’t really matter, said Dabbs.

Figuring out how to continue after the loss of such an integral part of the community is going to be hard.

“We had great faith in him, great confidence in him and it made a huge difference to us,” said Dabbs. “In a small community, we just don’t have that many people who could do the things he was able to do. So, to fill the void that he’s going to leave, in that sense, it’s going to be very difficult.”

“Kurt was a true community hero,” Yukon fire marshal Dennis Berry said in a release Wednesday.

But Gantner meant more to the community than just the services he provided, said Dabbs.

The two men knew and worked with each other in many different ways.

Not only were they personal friends and fellow firefighters, they also served on the town’s advisory board together.

Dabbs and his wife Judy also worked with Gantner and his wife Jutta for the volunteer emergency services in the community.

The Gantners came as a team, said Dabbs.

“When we talk here, we rarely say ‘Kurt’ or ‘Jutta,’ we almost always say ‘Kurt and Jutta,’” he said.

They were extraordinarily community minded, Dabbs added.

While Gantner served as a firefighter for many years in Germany, the couple also owned their own business there.

When they came to the Yukon, they established the Tagish Store Cafe Motel and RV park.

It is an obvious community hub – and was from the moment the couple opened its doors, said Dabbs.

When he and Judy were building their home and didn’t have heat or water yet, Dabbs would walk over for lunch everyday.

It was the beginning of their friendship, he said.

“We simply looked forward to going to see him,” said Dabbs.

A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, August 30 at 1 p.m. at the Tagish fire hall.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com