Burkel then began volunteering as a firefighter, even serving as president of the Benevolent Association, until the camaraderie of the fire-rescue department encouraged him to become a fulltime firefighter-paramedic. Kyle said fire gear alone weighs 75 pounds, and the work requires strength. Retired due to health reasons, he and his wife, Emily, built a home in Old Town, Fla. and are surrounded by nine wooded acres, embarking on a new phase.
Kyle said he never defined himself by what he did for a living, but when he became a firefighter-paramedic, it became a big part of his existence. His identity was embroiled in the bigger organization. He said there’s a saying at the station, T-SAFE: This S%@T isn’t for everybody, and anyone who’s ever tasked with serving the public understands the commitment. But, he did see his career as a way to give back to the community. He was professionally-trained to save lives, he said. The impact he has had, saving lives, remains with him. “I see my friends and family on their worse day. Since you know everybody in a small town, the ones you save where you really make a difference, makes it all worth it.”
Born in Bloomington, Minn., Kyle Burkel, 58, grew up in the country and to the country he has returned -- in his retirement. But, for a long while he called Islamorada home and he was recently recognized at a village council meeting for his 25 years of service to the community. He’s proud he stayed with the same department for all of his service.
Leaving a bitter cold Minnesota in the last week of February in 1993, Kyle moved to the Keys with his wife. Kyle had married a girl from his home state in late 1992 in a ceremony at Rumrummers where he had worked… that quirky, multi-story, oceanfront, tiki-roofed bar that graced Holiday Isle Resort for years. She left him and the Keys in June 1993, saying “There was no shopping.”
Kyle served as the Village of Islamorada’s first public works employee and then supervisor. He was the village's 17th employee after incorporation in December 1998.
With Islamorada’s public works department, Burkel recalled a crew of two other guys and him who were tasked with laying the stone foundation of the Carysfort Light cupola that graces the entry lane and roundabout in Founders Park. He also helped supervise the building of the aquatic center in 2001. Next, came the skate park construction (which later was removed to house exercise equipment and then pickleball courts).
Public works also worked on the village’s storm drains, repaving and patching roads, rebuilding road shoulders with sand; removing exotic trees and rebuilding Fire Station #20.
Burkel also saw his mom at the station! Virginia, known as Ginny and also as “Ma” was a volunteer firefighter who filled firefighters’ air packs and the like. She took the Firefighter 1 course and Kyle was her oldest son. Ginny was known about town, having worked as a cook at the Ocean View Pub and the Whistlestop. His mom taught him how to cook from when he was 10 onward, he said.
When Ginny/Ma moved back to Minnesota and was given her final identification card from the fire department, in tiny letters, it said “Kyle’s mom” and was a wonderful memento for her of her time in the Keys.
A firefighter-paramedic is not who Kyle thought he would become. His plan after high school was drafting school with the goal of becoming an engineer. Math wasn’t his strong point, however, he said, recalling the metric system students of the 1970s-80s had to learn.
He was working at Rosemont Aerospace in Minnesota building avionics for the military, but when laid off during slow economic times, he headed to the Keys. Working with a friend, Mike Powell, whose father owned Largo Aluminum, gave him an opportunity. He worked at Island Aluminum when the company opened a branch in Islamorada. Mike and friends also were working for the Islamorada fire department. Kyle joined the department in 1996, and was hired full-time in 2004 as a firefighter-paramedic. He retired on March 29, 2021.
Now, Kyle and his wife are riding motorcycles on less-traveled roads in the woods of north central Florida and enjoying retirement.