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A firefighter's final farewell in small SD town draws huge crowd

A helmet along with a wreath lay a top of the casket for Donald “Donny” Manger on Thursday in the Lyman School District’s gym in Presho. Matt Gade / Forum News Service1 / 3
Emergency vehicles from across the state take part in the processional for former Presho Fire Chief Donald “Donny” Manger on Thursday down Main Avenue in Presho. Matt Gade / Forum News Service2 / 3
The flag is folded to be presented to the family of Donald “Donny” Manger during Manger's funeral on Thursday in the Lyman School District’s gym in Presho. Matt Gade / Forum News Service3 / 3

PRESHO, S.D. — With an American flag draped over the casket, six people carried the late Presho fire chief to the front of a packed gym that included representatives from more than 50 South Dakota fire departments to say "goodbye."

Hundreds of community members, firefighters and family members crammed into the Lyman School District's gym in Presho in west-central South Dakota on Thursday morning to honor the life of Donald "Donny" Manger, who died on Saturday while at the scene of a fire in rural Lyman County.

The 45th firefighter to die in the line of duty in South Dakota, Manger is the latest member added to the list of firefighting fatalities.

But it's one that garnered a large crowd offering praise and well wishes for Manger and his family.

"I think we can say with confidence that Donny saved people's lives, that he changed people's lives and his life touched many people," The Rev. Travis Krogman said during the service. "... We know that to rescue somebody, you have to go where the water's pretty deep, where there's danger, where you have to have calm, you have to have strength, even when life is tough, and Donny exemplified that."

Attendees included representatives from the South Dakota Firefighters Association, Lyman School District students, community members and the more than 50 state fire departments. Local stores painted windows and sidewalks, many officials wore black badges with a red strip across — the universal symbol for a firefighter who died in the line of duty — and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard ordered flags to fly at half-staff on Thursday in Manger's honor.

According to the South Dakota Fire Marshal's Office, Manger collapsed at approximately 8:50 p.m. Saturday at the scene of the fire after "experiencing a medical condition." He was transported to Avera St. Mary's Hospital in Pierre, where he was pronounced dead. The case is being investigated by the Stanley County Sheriff's Office, with assistance from the South Dakota Fire Marshal.

Sharing memories, tears and condolences, attendees remembered Manger as a committed firefighter, but an even more dedicated father.

Manger, who served as fire chief for 23 years, leaves behind two high school-aged daughters and a son, and his brother, Steve, who serves as the Lyman County sheriff. Manger's wife, Sheila, died in May after a battle with cancer.

"When I heard the news, the thing that went through my mind is, 'You've got to be kidding me, God.' Not this family, it's just not fair, it's just not right," Krogman said, reminiscing on Manger's love and compassion for his wife when she was ill. "That's living life in a way that fills a gym with people. That's living life in a way that you can be proud of, that everybody who knows him can be proud of, and I know that everybody here is."

South Dakota Honor Guard members played a song toward the end of funeral, with bell chimes and drum strikes echoing throughout the otherwise silent gym. Even the most young children were fascinated, sitting still and quiet, staring at the ensemble.

Then, with few dry eyes to be found, a "last call" recording was played, which is a prepared statement presented like a scanner call to honor a deceased first responder.

"This is the last call for Presho Fire Chief Donny Manger," the recording said. "Godspeed and rest easy, Donny. We've got it from here."

Following the funeral service, the dozens of fire departments in attendance lined the streets with more than 100 fire trucks and apparatuses, and people bordered the roads creating a parade of sorts from the gym to the Presho Cemetery.

For Garretson firefighter Levi Schmid, traveling the 193 miles to Presho for Manger's funeral was a no-brainer.

And he was in good company.

Along with dozens of local fire departments, others in attendance included Brookings, North Sioux City, Aberdeen, Valley Springs and several others.

"We're all brothers out here," Schmid said. "Our hearts are with these guys and we're more than happy to be here for them today."