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Scribner firefighter recalls long-ago blaze

John Mauch heard the snap.

It was New Year’s Eve in 1978. The Cordes’ Brothers Gambles store in Scribner had caught fire and Mauch and other volunteer firefighters were at the scene.

Mauch and fellow firefighter Lyle Kruger were spraying water from hoses on the building when flames burned through wooden beams that held a large metal awning.

The beams snapped.

After the snap, the awning fell, hitting Mauch and Kruger in the legs.

“It crushed my foot,” Mauch said. “It was so cold that night. It was frigid cold. Larry Becker grabbed me and pulled me back into the middle of the street.”

Mauch eventually lost his right foot and leg after that fire. He’d change occupations, but stayed with the Scribner Volunteer Fire Department.

And to date, Mauch has been a fire department member for 51 years.

As Scribner firefighters pause this week to remember a March 1929 fire and explosion that claimed six young lives, Mauch and other firemen remember another hazardous night 41 years ago.

Mauch was 33 years old when he and other firefighters went to the Gambles store fire in Scribner.

The cause of the fire wasn’t determined, said Scribner firefighter Tom Zahourek, but it could have stemmed from a heater in the middle of the building.

That night, Hooper and Snyder volunteer firefighters arrived on the scene to help. Snyder had an aerial truck at the back of the building. A 1979 Scribner Rustler newspaper article said Winslow volunteer firefighters were on the scene as well.

“We were working out front,” Mauch remembered.

Mauch was spraying water into the building’s doorway when the awning fell. Kruger also was spraying water when the collapse occurred.

Kruger, who eventually had several surgeries on his leg, and Mauch were hurt the worst.

The Rustler news article also stated that Scribner firefighter Tom Dau was knocked into the building and a Winslow firefighter, Larry Ruwe, was temporarily trapped between the storefront and the canopy.

There were many hazards.

Scribner firefighters could hear the pop of ammunition and aerosol cans inside the building during the blaze, the article said. Water sprayed toward the building turned to ice, which caused slipping and sliding while firemen worked with the high-powered hoses and there was heavy smoke.

After being pulled into the street, Mauch and Kruger waited for an ambulance that would take them to the Fremont hospital. Three other firefighters were taken there later.

“It was so cold that night that when we got into the hospital, they had to chip ice off of our coats to get them unhooked,” Mauch said.

After X-rays were taken, Mauch later went in for surgery. The bones in his foot were set. A couple days later he had a skin graft on his foot.

He was in the Fremont hospital for a week, before going to Clarkson Hospital in Omaha.

Mauch said he wasn’t in a lot of physical pain, but had some decisions to make. He talked with his wife, Connie, and their minister, the Rev. Don Brunner, then-pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church at Scribner.

Losing part of a leg wasn’t easy. He was 33 years old — in the prime of his life.

Mauch first had an amputation above the ankle. About a week later, surgeons removed part of his leg about 8 inches below the knee, because it wasn’t healing.

The Rustler reported that local residents placed a large “Welcome Home John” banner on the front of Mauch’s house.

Mauch would change occupations from working construction to owning a Napa auto parts store, which he’s had for 38 years.

Next month, Mauch will turn 74 years old. He’s still on the fire department and rescue squad. He still goes to fires and vehicle accidents. He drives a tanker.

“There are a lot of little things you can do, help check stuff out,” he added.

Mauch likes the camaraderie of the firefighters.

The Mauchs have three children, Mike, Jim and Martha; eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Mike Mauch was on the fire department until he moved to Fremont.

Besides the camaraderie, Zahourek said firefighters also appreciate the gratitude from people they’ve helped.

Recently, firefighters helped a husband and wife who were in an accident and took them to Fremont.

Mauch and his wife later visited the woman who was in Dunklau Gardens.

“She couldn’t say, ‘thank you,’ enough,” he recalled. “You get a lot of that.”

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Diers Ford collecting food for fundraiser

In a drive to benefit area children, Diers Ford is collecting non-perishable foods.

And they’re aiming to collect a lot of non-perishable food — enough to fill 500 gallon-sized plastic bags.

The drive is part of an initiative that the local car dealer has launched this year to work toward a different cause each month. For the month of March, with the help of the Fremont Area United Way, Diers Ford hopes to give away the “food bags” to area schools, to help students who may struggle to afford meals.

“The kids during the week have the free-and-reduced lunch, but on the weekend it’s another story,” said Jodi Bruce of Diers Ford. “Sometimes they don’t have enough food for the whole family.”

In the early days of the “Escaping Hunger” March fundraiser, the company has collected between eight and 10 bags, Bruce said.

Diers Ford is collecting rice, beans, peanut butter, jelly, pasta, spaghetti sauce, tuna and other non-perishables. To donate, bring the items to Diers Ford at 2445 North Broad Street in Fremont. Diers Ford will provide the gallon-sized bags.

Monetary donations are also accepted. All money raised will be used to purchase bread at the end of the month that will be included in the donation.

Last month, Diers Ford collected supplies for the Dodge County Humane Society as part of a drive called #helpttrooperfillthetransit. It collected 503 pounds of dog food, 176 pounds of cat food and a broad assortment of other pet items, like leashes and treats.

In January, Diers Ford held its #diersdiaperdrive2019, collecting more than 11,000 diapers for the group 52 Weeks of Diapers.

Next month’s drive is still being determined, Bruce said. But she’s hoping, if the weather improves, that there could be some sort of work based around cleaning up Fremont. Some other months are already planned: July will focus on school supplies, October on cancer awareness and November on disabled vets.

“You just have to get involved in your community,” Bruce said. “Various times when I was younger, I needed help. It’s kind of a pay it back thing.”