A memorial will be held on Saturday for former Albany fire chief Mike Koepke, who died at his home in Sutter Creek on May 28 after a long battle with progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative disease that attacks the brain. He was 71.
The celebration of his life is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at the Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Ave., and is open to the public.
Koepke joined the Albany Fire Department in 1965 when he was 24. He quickly rose up through the ranks and was named chief in 1976. He retired in 1992.
"When he came to work, I was his captain," former Albany Fire Marshal Ray Gonsalves said. "He was the top fireman that I ever had under me or supervised. He outshined in every capacity. He was just a born leader."
Added former Albany firefighter Frank Hearney, "He was probably the smartest guy we had there. He was very calm in situations. He was a good guy to have in a fire. He didn't panic, he made good judgments."
Koepke became chief when he was selected over the assistant chief at the time, something that Gonsalves said was controversial. However, Koepke handled the situation with aplomb.
"That's just a true feature of Mike's personality," Gonsalves said. "He handled that like it was nothing, like a ship going through heavy waters."
Gonsalves said Koepke was just as good a person outside the department. According to Gonsalves, Koepke would baby-sit for Gonsalves' daughter when her children were
Horace "Mike" Irwin Koepke was born Feb. 11, 1941, in Junction City, Kansas. He moved to Sutter Creek in 1994. Gonsalves said several former Albany workers, including firefighters, police officers and city hall workers, would gather several times a year for lunch, and attendees would always ask if Koepke would be attending. However, about six years ago, Koepke stopped attending because of his failing health.
Progressive supranuclear palsy is a condition of unknown origin that causes symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease. Cells in the brain are damaged affecting the patient's eye movement, balance while walking and personality.
"He didn't want anybody to know of his condition," Gonsalves said.
Koepke's contributions to Albany were many. Gonsalves said one was recognizing the evolution of fire departments from mostly responding to fire calls to mostly responding to medical emergencies. Koepke required that firefighters earn emergency medical technician certification during his tenure, according to Gonsalves.
"The medical service in Albany now is outstanding and it goes back to what Mike recognized," Gonsalves said. "He knew the emphasis had to be on the medical part."
Inurnment for Koepke is at Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Widows, Orphans & Disabled Firefighters Fund, P.O. Box 41903, Los Angeles, CA 90041, or to Cure PSP, 30 East Padonia Road, Suite 201, Timonium, Maryland, 21903.
Koepke is survived by children Michael and Alisha as well as eight grandchildren. His son Jeff preceded him in death.