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Do-all Krivanek stepping away as Abie's fire chief
BUTLER COUNTY FACES

Do-all Krivanek stepping away as Abie's fire chief

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Editor's note: "Butler County Faces" is a monthly feature. The stories aim to spotlight the different people who call Butler County home. To make a suggestion for a profile, email us at DVDnews@lee.net, and include "Butler County Faces" in the subject line. Please include the any relevant contact information for the person and a bit about who they are. All suggestions will be considered.

One would be hard-pressed to find an Abie resident who doesn’t personally know – or know of – Carroll Krivanek.

For decades, Krivanek has served as the village’s do-all, tackling and fulfilling virtually whatever role was required of him. To date, he serves as the village treasurer, water commissioner and cemetery chairman. In early December 2019, though, he stepped away from the position for which he’s arguably best known: Serving as the chief of Abie’s Volunteer Fire Department.

Heading into the new decade, Krivanek said it was the perfect time to make some changes and step away from the role he held for the past 40 years. He will continue serving in a voluntary capacity with the department, but the head position is now being filled by longtime Assistant Chief Randy Vavrina, who was voted in by his peers Dec. 9.

“I’m one of the old guys now,” said Krivanek, who turns 70 in May. “And the young guys that are coming onto the department, they need to be able to relate to their fire chief more, they need somebody a little closer in age to relate to. All my buddies – the big group of us that fought fires all around – are all done fighting fires.

“My wife always told me, ‘You’re the only idiot that’s still doing it.” And years ago I told the guys that at some point I’d gladly step down. I know I’m getting older … And anyone who tries telling you that they are just as sharp as they were when they were 30 years old is crazy, too. You just aren’t.”

Carroll’s wife, Sharon, noted how her husband for years talked about handing over the reins. But, it never seemed to happen – until it did.

“Shock, basically,” Sharon said of her reaction when she heard that he finally stepped away. “He’s been talking about it for a long time, because obviously when you get to be 70 you shouldn’t be out there on the mainline like that. And he does a lot of (firefighting-related) reading and you hear about guys even in their 50s having heart attacks on the job. But, a lot of people in the family and neighborhood were really surprised.”

Firefighting is something that’s always been in Krivanek’s blood. His father, Lumir, served as Abie’s fire chief for the better part of 30 years. Krivanek was born in Columbus but spent all of his youth in the small village never far behind his father. Many of his early memories are associated with helping his father with various fire-related tasks and broadly learning the ropes.

“I’d been with my dad since I was 5 years old,” he said. “Taking care of the trucks, doing different things, I was with him since I was able to walk, basically.”

By the time he was in his late 20s, Krivanek was an established member of the Abie Rural Fire District, which encompasses a 24-section rectangular grid: 2 miles south, 2 miles north, 2 miles east and 4 miles west of Abie. With his dad still in the chief role, Krivanek fulfilled his duty serving as president of the rural department. Tragedy, though, thrust him into the department’s driver seat.

In 1979, Lumir, 62, suffered a major heart attack that sent him to the hospital in Schuyler. There, he recovered for nearly two weeks before his body gave out.

“In fact, he was supposed to go home the next day and he had another heart attack in the hospital the night before he was supposed to go home and he died,” Krivanek said.

Although clearly not ideal, Krivanek said he was ready for the responsibility associated with filling the void left in the wake of his father’s passing. An ambitious man, Krivanek could have stepped away from the department at the time or even moved away from Abie.

But, he felt like it was his duty to stay put.

“Because it was a way of life,” he said of why he stayed in Abie. “My grandpa had been on the department, my dad had been on the department, I had been around it my whole life. I guess I expected that I should help the community however I could."

During Krivanek’s storied tenure there was a great deal of moving and shaking. Under his watch, the department grew to more than 20 members, a new firehouse was built, trucks were upgraded, an EMT program was established and older fire-fighting methods were adapted and improved.

Over the decades, he and his team fought countless grass fires, a handful of major house fires and few very notable conflagrations: the grain elevator fire of 1983, a spray plane crash that killed a pilot in the 70s and the early 1990s fire at the city auditorium.

The most notable of that trio, he said, has to be the grain elevator fire. He distinctly remembers it happening on June 23, 1983, because it was nearly exactly 20 years after a disastrous flood swept through Abie.

“We got the call around midnight, and one of the guys who lives down here just happened to look out his window and he saw a glow in the top of the elevator,” Krivanek said. “So he called – back then we didn’t have pagers all we had was fire phones.

“And then my wife back then would always get on the fire phones and get all the guys out.”

Abie rural made an initial attack of its own on the fire and phoned in to receive mutual aid. David City ultimately brought its aerial into town, which Krivanek noted played a huge part in the structure being saved. The fire was believed to have started as a result of some welding activity on the elevator that happened earlier that day.

“It had to have been about six hours that it was smoldering and getting going before he saw it glowing through his window,” he said. “And we fought it until 5 a.m. and got it out, and from the outside, you couldn’t even really tell that it caught fire except for a little black.”

The top portion of the elevator underwent repairs, but as a whole, the structure remained intact. It was a huge accomplishment for Krivanek and his team.

“It was a real feather in our hat, because most wooden grain elevators that catch fire burn to the ground,” he said. “It was very odd that a wooden grain elevator was able to be put out.”

Krivanek readily acknowledges that the circumstances lined up just right for the elevator to be saved.

“There’s always luck involved with firefighting,” he said, with a laugh.

Reflecting on his time as chief, Krivanek is proud of what he and his team accomplished. The Abie Volunteer Fire Department isn’t comprised of full-time firefighters; rather, it’s area residents who feel compelled to spend time outside of their 9-to-5s – and sometimes miss valuable time with their families – to ensure that Abie and its surrounding communities are taken care of all the time.

“I think we always have done as well as we could,” he said. “Because we are so small, we don’t have a lot of money to play with. I remember when I first started, one of my goals was to buy a brand new fire truck. Well, we’ve never done that, but we have done a bunch of upgrading … But, you don’t always need a brand new $200,000 truck sitting there, you can buy a good used one for $40,000 or $50,000 and still get the job done.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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News Editor

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram, Schuyler Sun and The Banner-Press newspapers. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015.

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