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Tale of Two Leaders: Polo Fire Chief duals as middle school Janitor

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POLO (WREX) — Tony Karrow takes his job as a janitor at Aplington Middle School very seriously.

He patrols the halls, spraying, wiping and disinfecting every locker, door handle and classroom along the way.

He sees his role as vital, particularly in the age of a pandemic.

"Myself and the other four janitors, our responsibility is to keep the buildings safe and germ free as much as possible," Karrow said.

Now it isn't all business for Karrow.

The custodian also does a good job at connecting with the kids that fill Aplington's halls.

Teachers at the school feel the students look up to Karrow.

"Anyone has problems in the hallway, they're looking for him," Aplington Middle School teacher Nikki Smith said.

"He's kind of like a father figure for many of our kids."

Karrow, a Polo native, applied for the janitor job after retiring from his job of 30+ years. Well, one of his jobs of 30+ years.

Karrow is far from your average custodian.

When he's not at the school, he's filling the role of Chief of the Polo Fire Protection District.

Karrow joined the department 36 years ago as a young firefighter, ultimately working his way up to fire chief.

The man called the leader of Polo Fire over the last 12 years has brought many improvements to the department.

From a new ambulance response team to expanding community engagement, Karrow has created a bridge between first responders and civilians.

"Our fire department has an active role in community projects, fundraising for supplies, materials and equipment," Smith said.

Smith defines Karrow as the ultimate helper.

Someone who is reliable to jump in and do what he can when you need him

"He's always there to lend a hand. Whether it's opening my door because I'm carrying too much stuff or it's helping somebody in need," Smith said.

So fighting fires and germs, leading first responders and janitors.

Why? How do both of these worlds collide?

For Karrow, it simply stems from a desire to care for the place he's called home his entire life.

"It's got the perfect hometown atmosphere. It's just a nice pleasant place to live," Karrow said.

Chief Karrow is set to retire from the fire department at the end of May.

Thank you for everything you've done over the years chief!

If you know anyone across the 815 doing their best to make our home better, you can fill out a nomination form here or you can reach out to

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Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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