By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
Imperial fireman Nick Schultz joined an elite group from the Imperial Volunteer Fire Dept. (IVFD) who have been honored by their peers for their contributions to the fire service and their community.
Much to his surprise, Schultz was announced as one of 10 recipients of this year’s Award of Merit presented by the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association.
The presentation came during Friday morning’s opening ceremonies of the Nebraska State Fire School held in Grand Island last weekend.
Schultz said this week that he was surprised to receive the award. Adding to the surprise was that his wife, Jan, and children Lyndsy, Carli and Darrin were waiting in the wings and then joined him to share in the festivities.
Schultz said he felt both humbled and proud to receive the award, noting he recognized he was joining esteemed company as a recipient.
He almost didn’t go
What’s more ironic was that Thursday morning, Schultz contemplated not going to fire school this year.
He said he was really busy with things in his construction company and asked Fire Chief Bryan Dannatt if it was too late to back out.
Dannatt, knowing he was getting the award, told him it was indeed too late and that his registration fees had already been paid. So, Thursday night, Schultz headed to Grand Island.
In addition to firefighting activities, the Award of Merit also recognizes recipients for their community service.
Over 28 years on the department
Schultz will mark 29 years on the department this coming October. Only two current members have been on longer, Jody Bopp and Ken Robinson.
He has served as department president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, crew chief and 2nd lieutenant.
He is a member of the department’s rope rescue team, the Jaws of Life team and has been a pumper driver and operator for the past 20 years.
He owns and operates Schultz Construction Company and serves in various capacities with the city.
He is currently the city’s zoning administrator and is a long-time member of the Imperial Planning Commission.
He is a past district governor of the Nebraska Lions Club and remains active on both the local and state level.
He is also an active member of the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
Experiences of 28 years
Looking back on his tenure on the department, he said there have been many rewarding moments, exciting moments and tragic, sad memories, as well.
Schultz considers the camaraderie amongst the members one of the most rewarding aspects of serving on the department. “We’re a close-knit group,” he said.
When they’re on scene, he said he knows they can all count on each other. It’s like a second nature, he added.
It was rewarding to see the department start a rope rescue team, Schultz said.
That spawned from an incident where a man was injured atop a grain elevator in town.
Schultz had some climbing gear and some experience, which were both put to use that day. After that, the rope rescue squad was formed and training was completed.
He said the support from his family and the community for the department stands out, as well.
He said it’s nice when the community shows its appreciation for the quality of department here in Imperial.
He recalls attending fire school some 20 years ago and the instructor asked the three dozen or so students whether they could get 10-12 members to respond to a call in the middle of the day.
Schultz said he raised his hand, then looked around the room and didn’t see anyone else’s hand up. He thought he’d heard the question wrong and started to take his hand down when the instructor repeated the question again.
When the instructor asked Schultz where he was from, he said Imperial. “Well, that’s different,” the instructor said.
Schultz said he realized right there just what type of reputation Imperial had as a department.
Schultz said some of his most exciting moments occurred while on scene fighting major fires. He remembers one fire specifically, the potato plant fire in the 1980s, when he was a member of the interior attack team.
He noted they were able to save the building, which is always gratifying to a fireman.
He also recalls heading into a basement, fully geared, with his partner, and shells in an ammunition loading room were exploding.
Those 28 years have been marked with sadness as well.
Schultz recalls when they lost fellow firefighter Francis Nichols during a fire call. “That was a tough deal,” he said.
But perhaps the toughest memory comes from the fire at the Steve Knoetzel home. While they were able to save Steve, two young members of the family were lost.
Respect from his peers
While receiving the merit award was gratifying, Schultz said reading the nomination letters from his fellow firefighters was more rewarding.
Some of the comments from his fellow IVFD members included:
“I consider him as a go-to guy as being able to do it all. It takes a lot of pressure off when you are short-handed, as on a small department it happens all too often.”
“Many stories can be told of our department doing an outstanding job . . . and Nick Schultz’s name will come up in most of them.”
“What I admire most . . . is his calm voice when a conflict occurs. Because of this, they look to him for guidance and direction and respect him greatly.”
State Fire Award recipients from IVFD
1962 Art Stevens
1963 John Splitt
1974 Jerry Willhoft
1975 Jack Browning
1976 Robert Allen
1976 Ralph Browning
1977 Ron Meininger
1979 Marc Shay
1980 Dick Hansen
1981 Byron Hust
1982 Gene Haarberg
1983 Ansel Hill
1984 Richard Meyer
1987 J.D. Reeder
1990 Tom Elder
1991 Alan Woofter
1993 Paul Kunnemann
2001 Jody Bopp
2008 Todd Burpo
2009 Nick Schultz