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Presho community remembers fire chief who died at Saturday structure fire

Donny Manger is pictured in this 2016 file photo. (Caitlynn Peetz / Republic)1 / 2
Presho Fire Chief Donny Manger died while at the scene of a structure fire on Saturday in rural Lyman County. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)2 / 2

PRESHO — The sun rose on a somber central South Dakota scene on Monday.

As news spread about the Presho fire chief’s death, it became the talk of the town — from Main Street businesses to gas stations. And everyone seemed to have similar reactions.

Stunned, sad, disbelief.

Presho Fire Chief Donald F “Donny” Manger, 54, died on Saturday while helping his department battle a blaze at an abandoned structure in rural Lyman County, prompting fire departments, organizations and people across the state to show an outpouring of support on social media.

“Donny loved the fire department, he loved serving and protecting the community,” said Presho Mayor Mike Sprenger, who knew Manger for more than 30 years. “Donny died doing what he loved to do.”

According to the South Dakota Fire Marshal’s Office, Manger collapsed at approximately 8:50 p.m. 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. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has ordered all flags to fly at half-staff from 8 a.m. to sunset on Thursday in Manger’s memory.

A gruff, straightforward man, Manger had been a member of the Presho department for decades, and was well known around the small, Lyman County town as dedicated and willing to help anyone in need, Sprenger said.

And Manger was known for keeping the fire hall tidy, spending much of his spare time at the building “just checking on things,” Sprenger said.

On Monday morning, the building of the Presho Fire Department’s doors remained securely fastened, fire trucks tucked away neatly inside — a facade of normalcy while the crew grappled with the loss of their chief.

“I’ve talked to some of the firefighters, and they’re just devastated,” Sprenger said. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen a lot in our area, so there’s not much precedent on how to handle it. The sadness reverberates throughout the community, losing someone like him.”

Manger is the 45th firefighter to die in the line of duty in South Dakota, according to the South Dakota Firefighters Association.

Though it’s a list no town wants to be on, Sprenger said he’s proud of Manger and the Presho Fire Department for working diligently and together to protect citizens.

“The fire department here has always been on top of everything they do. They train for situations just like this and to protect the community is one of their big goals,” Sprenger said. “Don, he was off of work on Wednesdays, and every time you’d see him at the fire hall doing something — it’s where he liked to be and that’s a tough personality to replace.”

Presho City Councilman Colby Brakke echoed Sprenger’s sentiments, calling Manger’s death “tragic.” Because of his long-term commitment to the fire department, Brakke said Manger was a major part of the town.

“Donny was a fixture in the community and long-time member and leader of the department … I am not the most qualified to properly sum up all of his accolades, but this will hit the community pretty hard,” Brakke said.

'The reality of the job'

In May, Manger's wife, Sheila, died after a battle with cancer. Lyman School District Superintendent Rob Davis confirmed two of the couple's three children attend high school in Presho.

And the Manger family is no stranger to public service work. Manger's brother, Steve, is the Lyman County sheriff and emergency manager.

South Dakota Firefighters Association President Charlie Kludt arrived Monday in Presho, and a Local Assistance State Team (LAST) has been in town since Sunday, helping the departments manage temporarily without a chief. The LAST team will stay in town for several days to help the department, and help the community cope with the influx of people expected to attend Manger's funeral on Thursday, Kludt said, adding he expects "several hundred firefighters" to attend.

"It's one of those very unfortunate things you never want to happen, but the reality of the job is that sometimes it does," Kludt said. "It's tough."

Manger's funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Lyman Gardens, which is at Lyman High School. Visitation will be at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at the Presho United Methodist Church in Presho.