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Colleagues remember Neb. FF-EMT who died due to COVID-19

Ponca Firefighter-EMT Bob Kneifl, known in the community as “Husker Bob,” served as a volunteer first responder for 26 years and was also a fire prevention officer


Ponca Firefighter-EMT Bob Kneifl, 64, known in his community as “Husker Bob,” died on Monday due to COVID-19. He served as a volunteer first responder for 26 years and a fire prevention officer.

Photo/Ponca Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department

Nick Hytrek
Sioux City Journal, Iowa

PONCA, Neb. — Inside the back of an ambulance is rarely a good place to find yourself.

Unless you were being transported by the Ponca Volunteer Fire and Rescue squad and Husker Bob was back there with you. In that case, you were in good hands, and possibly in stitches before you ever got to the hospital.

“If the patient wasn’t doing too bad, he’d ask them if they had their wallet with them so we could get dinner,” Ponca fire chief Brad Krohn said, shaking his head and chuckling at the memories.

A 26-year member of Ponca’s fire and rescue squad and longtime rescue captain and fire prevention officer, Husker Bob, otherwise known as Bob Kneifl, was laid to rest Thursday, saluted by dozens of firefighters, EMTs and law enforcement officers from throughout northeast Nebraska. Kneifl, 64, died Monday, one of the growing number of Siouxlanders to succumb to COVID-19.

Because of underlying health issues, Kneifl had cut back on the number of rescue calls he went on since March, when the novel coronavirus began to spread. It took a pandemic to keep him from dropping whatever he was doing nearly ever time the ambulance was paged.

“He loved going out on calls,” said Paul Mahler, a fellow squad member. “He didn’t care who you were, what you did for a living, he’d talk to you and make you feel like family.”

He had a big family of firefighters and EMTs. As fire prevention officer, he worked throughout Dixon County and beyond, towing the fire prevention trailer behind a pickup, handing out free stuff and doing puppet shows for children, teaching them fire prevention and safety.

“He loved being with the kids,” Krohn said. “Anything with kids was Bob’s forte.”

The fire prevention trailer may have belonged to the department, but Kneifl referred to it as his own. His coffin was transported to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church inside that trailer Thursday. At the conclusion of his funeral, the trailer was at the front of a long line of fire trucks and ambulances that sounded their sirens as they made a loop through town before slowly making their way up the hill to the cemetery.

Working in Ponca at his Husker Repair shop, the source of his nickname, he’d close up to go on ambulance calls during the day, a time when many members who work out of town are not available. He liked to jokingly call himself and others who were able to respond to those daytime calls as the A Team, Krohn said.

His dependability was no joke, however. Nearly every year, he was honored for responding to more than 50% of Ponca’s fire and rescue calls.

“It’s going to be a huge, huge loss,” Krohn said.

He was a huge Sioux City Musketeers fan and also a good sport. He liked to laugh, Krohn said, and could take a little razzing himself. Krohn recalled one late-night ambulance call in which a man had broken his leg at Ponca State Park. All the way to the hospital in Sioux City, Kneifl explained the injury to the patient and the medical procedures. After getting the patient to the hospital, the rescue squad learned Kneifl had been explaining it all to an orthopedic surgeon.

“That was kind of the big joke. Husker was trying to tell a doctor what was going on,” Krohn said. Fellow department members never let him forget it, and they’ll never forget his years of dedication.

Near the conclusion of the services at his grave site Thursday, a loud tone sounded, one final page calling Kneifl to service.

“Paging Husker Bob,” the dispatcher said once, then repeated it. Hearing no response, the dispatcher signed off on behalf of a grateful community.

“Thank you for your 26 years,” he said. “We will take it from here.”

Hundreds of times, Kneifl had answered the call, climbing into the back of the ambulance, ready to care for stranger or friend, whoever needed help.

Though he’ll no longer respond when called, you have to feel he’ll still be back there, lending whatever aid he can.


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