Fallen Firefighter Remembered

By Karen Colbenson
Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

John Konovsky was on duty at the Austin Fire Department that Saturday night, Jan.16, 1926, when the alarm sounded about midnight.

Two days later, Konovsky was dead -- the last firefighter from Austin to die in the line of duty, according to current Fire Chief Dan Wilson.

The Saturday night fire that led to the 56-year-old Konovsky's death was at a paper warehouse in town. Konovsky got to the fire quickly, not even stopping to put on his rubber gear. When he arrived at the scene, water quickly drenched his clothes. He eventually went home to put on clean, dry clothes and immediately returned to the fire, operating the fire hose until 4:30 p.m.

Later, the other firefighters would recall Konovsky making only one complaint that night, and that was when he said the fumes coming from the burning building made him feel faint.

The next day, Konovsky fell unconscious at the fire station, but seemed to recover; he went to the barber later that day for a shave.

At 5 p.m. Jan. 18, the well-known firefighter and long-time Austin resident died suddenly at an area hospital. His death was caused by heart failure indirectly related to breathing fumes and smoke at the paper warehouse fire.

A few minutes before his death, he told visiting members of the fire department that he felt well enough to respond to an alarm if one came in that day.

In a book compiled by Jiles Baldus, "History of Austin Fire Department 1870-1970," Konovsky was described as being "a born firefighter ... he was fearless and courageous, prompt to respond to calls, and ever at his post of duty."

Austin firefighters are encouraging community members to lower their flags on Sunday to remember firefighters such as Konovsky who have died in the line of duty. The remembrance is part of the observance of National Fire Prevention Week, which begins Sunday.