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A sentimental journey

By Staff | Nov 15, 2008

The three stand in front of the 1966 fire truck the Kriewall’s recently purchased and returned to Blue Earth.

Playing with fire trucks and wanting to be a fireman are often fantasies of young boys. But for two Blue Earth brothers the dream became a reality which has lasted over 30 years.

For Bernie and Scott Kriewall, fire fighting and driving fire trucks is a family tradition that dates back to the early 1900’s.

Several relatives of theirs, including father, Fritz Kriewall, have all been active members of the Blue Earth Volunteer Fire Department. In fact, father and sons have a total of 101 years of service to the organization.

“Being a fireman gets in your blood,” summarizes Bernie Kriewall.

But there also must be a bond between man and the fire truck he has driven to fires.

Recently, the Kriewall brothers saw an ad regarding the sale of a 1966 GMC pumper truck in “The Smoke Eater,” a fireman’s publication. The fire truck was being sold by the city of Sunburg, a small town west of Willmar.

Bernie Kriewall realized this was the same truck he had driven for nine years to numerous fires. Further enhancing his memory was the fact his father was the fire chief when the truck was sold to Sunburg in 1983.

Purely for sentimental reasons, the Kriewall brothers submitted a bid in October for the pumper truck. To their surprise and delight, their offer was accepted and they were able to drive it back to its original home after a 25 year absence.

Milt Henke was the fire chief at the time the 1966 truck was originally bought. He says the chassis was purchased from Floyd Klatt, of the former Klatt Motors, which was located where the First Bank parking lot now sits. He believes it was the first closed-cab fire truck Blue Earth had.

The cost of the chassis is unknown, but Forsner Apparatus of Madelia built the truck at a cost of $10,715. The GMC farm pumper truck was purchased primarily to be used for rural fires says Henke, but also for city use as it features a 500 gallons per minute pump and a 600 gallon tank.

A comparable truck today would cost close to $200,000 estimates the Kriewall brothers.

During its 17 years of service to the city of Blue Earth, the pumper truck was present at several major fires. These included a fire in January 1970 at a house at Sixth and Moore. The house was built in the 1890’s by Dr. G.I. Smart and was Blue Earth’s first hospital. The temperature the day of the fire was -15 degrees.

In October 1970, the truck was at the scene of the Broiler Cafe fire on Main Street. The cafe was gutted by fire along with an upstairs apartment.

The pumper was at the scene of the Home Town Laundromat fire on West Seventh Street in December 1970. The blaze started in a dryer. Very heavy smoke and -10 degree temperatures hampered the firefighters.

January 1971 found the truck at the site of Milt’s Place and Antiques. The firemen were called out by the alarm at 2:08 a.m. The temperature was 15 degrees below zero.

In August 1976, the Blue Earth area firemen drove the pumper to the scene of one of the largest fires in the county at the Delavan Elevator The two year old elevator and one year old annex contained about 200,000 bushels of grain and was declared a total loss.

A house at Ninth and Ramsey burned in December 1980. All available fire equipment, besides the 1966 GMC pumper, was used. Neighboring buildings were not threatened because of the firemen’s efforts. The occupants lost all their belongings a week before Christmas.

The last major fire the GMC pumper assisted with was in May 1981 at the Faribault County Implement Company. Firefighters worked from 2:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. to control the blaze. Damage was estimated at $250,000.

The vintage vehicle assisted Sunburg firemen at several other fires during the past 25 years.

The Kriewall’s hope to have the truck re-lettered in the near future with the goal of driving it in next summer’s Giant Days Parade.

Talk is also underway with current fire chief, Terry Campbell, to donate the truck to the Blue Earth Fire Department.

The Kriewall brothers recently retired as firemen, but they obviously still enjoy fire trucks. It is seemingly appropriate for them to have rescued the 42 year old vehicle with only 12,000 miles on it’s gauge.

They have allowed the 1966 GMC to make the sentimental journey back home.