Quinlan named Cornbelt Firefighter of the Year

By: Fred Kroner
Photo by Emily Jankauski: Darwyn Boston, chairman of the Mahomet Area Chamber of
Commerce, provides Bob Quinlan with the Above and Beyond Service
Recognition award.
Three years ago, Mahomet resident Bob Quinlan joined the Cornbelt Fire Protection team as a volunteer firefighter.
All department newcomers go through a rigorous training period.
“Every Monday in the first year, for 50 of the 52 weeks, you are there,” Quinlan said. “I went through that with the rookie class.”
He might have been the most experienced rookie every to join the Mahomet department.
Five years ago, Quinlan retired from the Champaign Fire Department after nearly 35 years of service.
Quinlan never thought about asking to not go through the training.
“It wouldn’t have been appropriate,” he said. “I needed to brush up on my basic skills and refresh.”
During his time in Champaign, he had transitioned from the position of firefighter to that of fire engineer, which is a driver position.
Quinlan, 68, was honored Monday as the Cornbelt Firefighter of the Year.
“It could have easily been given to anyone in the department,” he said.
Though his name is associated with the honor this year, Quinlan added, “it’s a way to honor and encourage the whole department to do your best.
“I’m the lucky guy this time, but there are many others who deserve it. That individual knows it takes the group to get anything accomplished in an emergency. It’s a symbolic award to one individual that represents the whole department.”
A Champaign native, Quinlan started his career in the construction industry.
“There’s always enough people to build the buildings, he said, “but if they are on fire, that’s a specialty.
“Construction is a lot of physical work. Firefighting is also physical work, but you are also interacting with all levels of the community.”
A typical schedule for communities with full-time firefighters is to work a 24-hour shift every third day.
Earlier this month, Cornbelt added a 12-hour night shift (where one person is assigned to the station and available for calls). Quinlan had his first night shift last week.
For the firefighters who are true volunteers, responding when a call arises, Quinlan said the department’s expanded commitment, “gives more people a taste of what it’s like to be a full-time firefighter, but spread out over 45 to 50 people.
“Because of the 12-hour shifts, Mahomet is as close to full-time as any (volunteer department).”
When Quinlan retired from Champaign, it wasn’t with the idea of becoming a volunteer firefighter.
“I missed the opportunity to serve an entire community and be part of a great organization,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to be a part of that community service.
“It gives you a feeling of connection to your community and meaningfulness in your daily life. It’s my privilege to serve on the Cornbelt Fire Department and I’m lucky to work with a bunch of good people.”
Quinlan doesn’t have a particular role he needs to serve.
“I can drive the truck or get on the truck,” he said. “I’ll fill in where needed.”
He doesn’t anticipate having a long tenure.
“The young guys are stronger and faster,” Quinlan said. “I’m slowing down. My career will probably be fairly short.”
Until he decides to re-retire, however, Quinlan will remain ready to serve.
“I carry a pager all the time,” he said. “I sleep with it under the pillow.”
Quinlan joins a distinguished group of honorees.
Other recent recipients of the Cornbelt recognition were Joe Logan and David Parsons (both in 2016).
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