PLATTSMOUTH – Plattsmouth firefighter Bob Heckman is this year’s recipient of the Nebraska State Foresters Award, which is given for selflessness and service to the public. The award did not come as a surprise to many.
“This guy is just incredible,” said Matt Holte, Nebraska Forest Service (NFS) Fire Team operations leader. “He does so much around the state to help us with fire prevention and training. He’s an absolute asset. I can’t say enough about his service to Nebraska.”
Heckman has logged upwards of 30,000 hours in his time working with Nebraska and Iowa volunteer fire departments, according to the NFS. And those times haven’t always been easy, it added.
For example, in 2016, Heckman was a first responder to a large ethanol explosion near Offutt Air Force Base. The ensuing flames risked spreading to the many ethanol tankers nearby, according to Benjamin Bohall, NFS spokesman.
“Bob sprang into action,” he said.
According to an official report on the fire, “utilizing a forklift, Heckman retrieved a 250-gallon tote of foam from the storage location, set it up at the foam cannon location, and started applying the foam to the burning fuel that had made its way into the containment area around the 3.5 million gallon tank.”
Officials went on to credit Heckman’s early actions “with preventing what could have been a disastrous situation for the entire surrounding area,” according to Bohall.
Heckman has also been at the forefront of fire prevention education by regularly writing prevention articles for several local newspapers and conducts training throughout eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.
“His unique Smokey Bear presentations have been a big hit with the public over the years, appealing to different age groups from a variety of backgrounds,” Bohall said.
Nebraska State Forester John Erixson added, “Bob is receiving this award because of his innovative ways of spreading the prevention message, commitment to his community, and leadership in moving the prevention program forward. We honor his passion and commitment.”
While others weren’t surprised at Heckman’s selection during ceremonies on July 2, it apparently was news to him.
“I didn’t know anything about it before that night,” Heckman said. “I heard them call my name and I walked up front and they presented me with the award. It shocked me.”
Heckman has worked more than 40 years in fire departments, including 28 years in Columbus and the past 12 for the Plattsmouth Volunteer Fire Department.
He also arranges and teaches fire prevention classes, most recently in Kearney, Grand Island, Fremont and Murray.
Heckman also holds many fire safety events in Plattsmouth.
“I love teaching fire safety to everyone,” he said. “I try to teach things at a level where everyone understands it no matter their age. If it’s something with children, I try to make it simple and show them things in a fun way they will remember and use if they need to.
“If it’s adults, I try to give them a lot of common-sense advice that they can use in any situation. I try to give everyone information they can have ready to go in their memory bank.”
When speaking to children, Heckman uses a technique called “Fishing With a Fireman” that involves him asking questions about fire safety such as how to call 911 or how to safely exit a home.
If the children answer the information correctly, Heckman gives them a fishing rod to use to reel in a prize out of a container.
Heckman said he has “tremendous” respect for the fire departments across the state and the Nebraska Forest Service.
“They do a lot of good work and help a lot of people. They deserve a lot of credit for the work they do to keep people safe.”