Farmer, firefighter balances careers, family

This June marks the 20th year Joe Hassinger has been a firemen with the Pontiac Fire Department, where he has worked his way up the ladder during his career to deputy chief.

PONTIAC, Ill. — From his early days of riding the tractor with his grandfather and uncle, Joe Hassinger always wanted to be a farmer.

A high school course piqued another interest and he was able to eventually converge those two interests into careers.

“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do for a career. I always wanted to farm, but I didn’t know if that was a reality. Dad wasn’t farming anymore. I helped people, but I just didn’t know if that was going to materialize,” said Hassinger, 37, Pontiac Fire Department deputy chief/administrative chief.

While attending Pontiac Township High School, he enrolled in a firefighting course at the Livingston Area Career Center.

“I really liked that. I knew I wanted to be in the trades and I liked the firefighting, so I thought I’d be a volunteer fireman some day wherever I worked or lived,” he said.

After high school, Hassinger enrolled in Parkland College in Champaign for an associate’s degree in fire science, serving as a volunteer fireman in Champaign while in college. He was also a volunteer at PFD when he was home from college.

“I thought I might want to be an electrician. I didn’t really know, but then as I got more involved, the more I was interested,” he said.

Firefighter certification tests are offered every few years, and Hassinger went through the testing process that eventually led to being hired full-time at PFD in 2008 when he was 21.

“I knew I wanted to do that. I like firefighting. I like to help people,” said Hassinger, now near his 20th year at PFD, part-time and full-time combined.

A typical full-time PFD shift is 24 hours on duty, 48 hours off.

“We have eight to 10 people on duty every day. We also have paid on-call which they can either come in and work part-time shifts or they get called in for fires,” Hassinger said.

“The schedule allows you to also do other things that you love which is why I’m doing what I’m doing today.”

His duties at PFD currently include overseeing the Administrative Branch, managing the Finance Division, supervising the Fire Investigation Unit and commander of A Shift, and he is also a certified emergency medical technician.


“My dad kind of got out farming before I was old enough to even help or know better. I barely remember riding him with him. He had a good full-time job and in the late 1980s, early 1990s, he didn’t have enough acres to make it worth while,” he said.

“His dad had passed away in the 1970s, so I never really knew that Hassinger side of the farming operation.”

His grandfather, Leo Abry, and his uncle, Doug Abry, farmed in the Odell/Dwight area, and Hassinger fondly recalls riding with them on the tractor as a youngster.

“I just always loved farming,” he said. “Beyond that, I started helping people while I was in high school, making connections with those people and then that turned into a job on a farm.

“I worked at Mycogen Seeds one summer and a met another guy I went to work for and it just kind of started snowballing until I found some people who gave me an opportunity to farm.

“I’ve also had some family members decide to sell the farm ground, and I’m going through the building phase now.”

Hassinger primarily farms in the Graymont/Flanagan area, as well as the farmland north of Odell, all of which are corn/soybean rotations.

“I get my farming job done and everybody’s happy and then get to do good things for the citizens.”

—  Joe Hassinger, deputy chief/administrative chief, Pontiac Fire Department

He is the fifth generation on his mother Deanna’s family side to farm Abry land north of Odell and started farming there a few years ago.

“I’m big on the family stuff. I think one of the coolest things about going up there (to the Odell area) is I knew a lot of those people. We would go out to eat every Sunday and I’d see them while I was growing up, going to basketball games, and the old traditional names of people in that area,” Hassinger said.

“When I go up there now everyone is very friendly. They were grandpa’s neighbors for years and these people took care of grandpa when he got old and plowed his driveway. They farmed by him for years.

“It’s kind of neat, everybody up there is very friendly. Everyone says if I ever need help to stop by.”

Soil Conservation

“We strip-till corn. I’ve always worked for people that did strip-till, so that’s what I knew. The people I’m working with did strip-till, as well, so it was an easy transition,” Hassinger continued.

“We’ve done a little bit of strip-till in soybeans, but mainly no tillage on soybeans and that’s worked out pretty well for us. It’s really good ground here where we’re at. It’s very forgiving.

“Obviously, the future is nutrient management and we’re trying to do things a little better. We’re trying to check all those boxes and do what’s best for not only the ground, but also economics. It takes less equipment, less manpower.

“We are basically one-pass in the spring and that’s with the planter.”

With planting season just around the corner, fifth-generation farmer Joe Hassinger makes sure his planter is ready to go. Hassinger farms in the Graymont, Flanagan and Odell areas, all of which are corn/soybean rotations.

Family Ties

Family has always been important to Hassinger and his fireman and farming careers have enabled him to easily balance those roles.

He and his wife, Ashley, have two children, Addison, 8, and Leo, 5. Ashley works at the Graymont Co-op grain office.

“My goal now that I have kids and why I like farming is I can have my kids with me, even though I’m working, and I’m not missing time with them,” Hassinger said.

“Addison went through the phase of wanting to help dad do everything. She still likes to help. We’re getting some show pigs and she’s still involved in that.

“Leo is at the point where he wants to ride in everything. If you’re going to put the truck away from here to the shed, he wants to get in it with you. He loves riding in the semi and the tractors and being outside doing everything. It’s fun that I’m getting to experience that.”


Through his experiences as a fireman and farmer, Hassinger carries with him a unique perspective about the favorites and least favorite parts of his careers.

“My favorite part about farming, obviously I wanted to get back to a point where me and my dad could farm. He could help me. That was always a goal of mine,” he said.

“Well, dad got sick and passed away (in 2021) basically just after I was getting established and he never really got to do that, but I’d like to think that he got to see me succeed at what my dream was and get to see my kids start to come up in it. That’s probably my favorite part about farming, and I don’t know that I’ll ever overcome that.

“As far as the least favorite parts of farming, it’s kind of a loaded question because even the bad days really aren’t that bad. But there are days when you’re working on something, nothing goes right, and it just follows you all the way to the end. That could be something just as simple as working in the shed on something and then a bolt breaks and that leads to another project and another project.

“There are bad days, but it’s not like bad days at any other jobs I’ve had. At the end of the day, you get to come home or even on those bad days, every day the kids all want to go for a ride in the Ranger even if it’s just around the section and you end your day like that. Or, you end your day at your buddy’s house in the shed.”

Hassinger was asked if his perspective correlates with being a fireman and helping people during what may be one of the worst day of their life.

“I think part of that, too, is my perspective of what bad is maybe is different than other people’s perspective,” he said.

“The same with the good, my favorite part of farming is being with my family and getting to work with friends. I have so many good people that help and that I’ve made partnerships with.

“The most similar thing I can tell you right now between the two of them for me is, even though I feel like I’m just starting, you get to a point, and this was told to me by somebody that I feel is smarter than me and it makes sense, where you have a long-term plan. I don’t want to farm until I’m 100. I may want to help if I’m capable.

“The same with the fire department. I love my job, but at some point you get to a stage where now my responsibility is to take care of these new people at work and my kids at home.

“I have to work my butt off if my kids ever want to farm because the acres that are barely sustainable today won’t be sustainable in 20 years for a job. So, you’re constantly building and then all of a sudden you get to a point where you have to stop and realize, I need to switch gears and start prepping these people to take this over and keep it going. That’s the biggest similarity at what I like about farming.”

“A lot of what I do at work now is business now. I like to crunch numbers. I do enjoy that part of it.”


Being a full-time fireman can also take away from being with family during his shift.

“You’re away from your family on some of the holidays, but they still come in, and you’re with your other family — the fireman — and it’s really like having two families,” Hassinger said.

“Time away when I was younger was a big negative, but it’s just part of it. Obviously, there’s a lot of sorrow that also goes with it, as well. We run a lot of calls and there’s fatigue with that. With the size of our town, I’ve been in the ER and watched people’s kids come through the door that I went to school with that are there because one of their parents have passed away.

“You can’t go very long without that connection. The more involved you are, the more you know people. You see that and you deal with it a different way.

“Now my goal is watch how the people who are just coming into this are handling it.”


Hassinger enjoys his current position at PFD and what it has to offer.

“The deputy chief of operations is the fun job as far as I’m concerned. You get to align how you respond and policies in regards to how you do things every day. They call it the day-to-day stuff,” he said.

“You get to be the lead of buying apparatus and buying equipment and the maintenance. If there’s a question in the day-to-day stuff, you kind of lead those things. I get to float between all the shifts and get to go to calls all over the county and all over our district, and that’s a fun thing.

“My job now is very rewarding. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in my career there. There’s so many new young people and you get to see them going through all the mistakes you’ve made or, hopefully, they’re bypassing some of them because you’re telling about them. They’re all getting to the stage where they’re getting married and having kids. I’m one of the older ones, believe it or not, and I’m young.

“It’s works out fine, and I love farming and being a fireman. I get my farming job done and everybody’s happy and then get to do good things for the citizens.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor