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On the job: Mike Kobel

Mike Kobel
Click photo to enlarge
Mike Kobel is a crash rescue specialist coordinator at Willard Airport. He says his love of planes helps keep his job exciting.

Mike Kobel, crash rescue specialist coordinator at Willard Airport, has worked in emergency services for more than 20 years. Born and raised in Champaign, Kobel is a graduate of Central High School. He has a degree in automotive mechanics from Parkland College and became interested in emergency services after working at a farm equipment dealership as a mechanic. After considering what would happen if someone was hurt while working, Kobel was prompted to take a rescue technician and EMT class at Parkland. Since then, Kobel has obtained three other degrees from Parkland in fire service technology and from Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University in fire service administration.

After working as fire chief of the Eastern Prairie Fire Department for six years, Kobel started working at Willard Airport in August 1994.

Tell me about your job.

As a crash rescue specialist coordinator at Willard Airport, I oversee a 12-hour shift of myself and another firefighter. We are trained in fire protection and rescue in the event of an aircraft accident. We also are trained to provide CPR and EMS to individuals at the airport who may need it. Customer service also is a large part of our job, so if someone accidentally locks their keys in their car or their car needs a jump start, we will help them with that. We wear a lot of different hats.

Each of us must know the aircraft that are housed at the airport or those that have landed. We have gone through intense training to know the different systems on board each craft so that in the event of an accident we can respond to passenger needs effectively.

What’s your typical day look like?

Every day is different, but every morning I come in and touch base with whoever was on duty before me as well as with the fire marshal to see what events took place the night before. Sometimes we provide fire extinguisher training sessions during the day for students at the aviation school. Sometimes we will receive emergency calls from incoming aircraft that have smoke in the cabin or electrical or landing gear problems so we will get in our trucks and respond. Although nine out of 10 times the landing gear will come down on a plane, you have to be there because you never know what may happen.

Throughout the day we are like a traditional fire department though. There are plenty of housekeeping duties that need to be done and those keep us pretty busy. We have six vehicles that we use so we spend time checking and running them to make sure they’re ready to go when we need them. And always, there’s training.

What do you like most about your job?

Something new and different happens every day. There’s nothing like stepping out onto a ramp and seeing an F-16 take off. I love planes and it keeps my job from getting stale. My favorite day was when former President Clinton’s plane got stuck in the mud after going off the runway. Even though I didn’t get to meet him, I did get to clean the mud off of his plane. Not everyone can say that they’ve done that.

Have you been able to meet any famous people?

Oh sure. I’ve met Jay Leno, Rod Blagojevich, Richard Petty, Mike Ditka and Bill Cosby. I remember asking Bill Cosby how his show at Assembly Hall went. He said, ‘Terrible, terrible … they wanted to run me out of town.’ I told him ‘Keep trying, you’ll get it right.’ He laughed and shook my hand. I’m hoping that one of these days I’ll get to meet President Obama since he (has ties to) Illinois.

What do you like to do off the job?

This will be my 11th year as a Champaign County Freedom Celebration member and I was recently appointed to the Champaign County Fair board. Right now we are in the middle of organizing Fire Apparatus Extravaganza, which will be a fire truck show with hands-on activities for families at the fair this summer.

When I get some time I’d love to race my stock car again. I am part of the fire safety team at Chicagoland Motor Speedway, which is awesome. My buddies at the track and I have driven the Richard Petty Driving Experience Cars, and I’ve even gotten my dad to ride in one. It’s a real hoot.

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