The North Bend Eagle


Don Kruger fights the 2009 downtown North Bend fire, one of the nearly 6,000 calls he’s been on in 46 years.

Kruger closing 46 years of first responding

by Nathan Arneal
Published 10/7/20

Don Kruger grew up in a house on Locust Street across from the North Bend City Park. When the town siren went off calling local firemen to the fire house for an emergency call, he and his siblings would go out to the corner and look down the streets to see if they could see the fire trucks leaving town to the north or the east.

It was enough to capture a child’s eye and heart.

“Lights and sirens,” Kruger remembers. “That’s a lot of it, it really is. That’s probably part of the reason I joined the fire department.”

It was a feeling he never outgrew.

Kruger’s time on the North Bend Volunteer Fire Department is coming to a close after 46 years. He figures he participated in about 5,800 of the 11,800 emergency calls that came in during his career.

Kruger is a life-long North Bender, born in Iva Liles’ Nursing Home at 10th and Maple. He graduated from North Bend High School in 1965 before joining the Navy.

After serving on the USS Richard S. Edwards, a destroyer that fired on the coast of Vietnam, he and his wife Connie, whom he married in 1968, returned to North Bend.

He worked for Weldon Industries for a bit before getting a job with Farmer’s Telephone. He continued working for the local telephone office, which was eventually became Great Plains, until his recent retirement.

On Sept. 3, 1974, he joined the North Bend Volunteer Fire Department, following the footsteps of his dad, LaVern “Toad” Kruger.

“Dad was on it for years, and that was something a lot of kids did,” Kruger said. “If your dad is on the fire department and you’re in North Bend, you joined the fire department.”

Kruger sat on a waiting list for more than a year before a spot opened up on the department, which was full with 35 members.

In addition to his dad, guys like Leonard Dodge, Jim Simon, Arnie Kavan, E.T. Dobrusky, Carroll Wiebold and Irish Krepel helped show Kruger the ropes.

“It was like a brotherhood, a family almost,” he said. “Everyone looked out for everyone.”

In his early years on the department, Kruger was among the NBVFD personnel who helped when the Pathfinder Hotel exploded in Fremont on Jan. 10, 1976, killing 20 people in a natural gas explosion.

He was also on the forefront as the fire service evolved over the years. One year he attended fire school in Grand Island and took an interior tactics class on using air tanks to breathe while entering a burning building. The NBVFD had two air packs, though they sat in boxes, unused.

“We came back and said, ‘Boy, this is the greatest stuff we’ve ever seen, and this is how we’re going to fight fires from here on out,’” Kruger recalled.

The veteran firefighters looked at him like he was crazy.

“We don’t go into burning buildings,” they told him.


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