Following in his father’s footsteps: Firefighting, farming evolve with the times

As a youngster, Wade Knobloch was a frequent visitor to the Gridley fire station where his father, now fire chief, was a fireman, and his grandfather helped form the ambulance service. He is now a volunteer fireman and EMT there, as well as full-time with the Pontiac Fire Department.

GRIDLEY, Ill. — From as far back as he can remember, farming and the fire department have been a part Wade Knobloch’s life.

His father, Casey Knobloch, has been with the Gridley Fire Department for 24 years and now serves as chief.

His grandfather, Dave Knobloch, was among those involved in starting the village’s ambulance service in 1980.

“I’m second generation on the Gridley Fire Department and third generation on the ambulance service. It’s kind of always been in our blood. I was always hanging around the firehouse,” Knobloch said.

“The week I turned 18, I got into the ambulance service and dad made me wait until I graduated from high school to get on the fire side.”

Gridley is home to over 1,450 residents with a very proactive volunteer fire department in its training, recruitment and equipment with the support of fire district residents that encompass the village and rural area.

“We have 25 active firemen and that’s very beneficial. During the day, we’ll have 10 firemen around for calls who farm or work at businesses in town, but it does get a little crazy during planting and harvest because everyone’s so busy,” Knobloch said.

“More than half of us are also cross-trained as both firemen and EMTs/paramedics, so we can do both roles on calls, especially for accidents.”

Along with being a volunteer on his hometown’s fire department, Knobloch, 23, is also full-time on the Pontiac Fire Department, working 24-hour shifts followed by 48 hours off.

“Farming is just like the fire department — everything is changing, everything is different. We try to evolve with the times.”

—  Wade Knobloch, volunteer, Gridley Fire Department

He’s been full-time at PFD for two years and was part-time for a couple months prior to that.

“Deputy Chief Joe Hassinger had mentioned something to dad that they were looking for part-time people. So, I had the opportunity to go there and work part-time,” Knobloch said.

“While I was there part-time, the Duffy Ambulance Service closed and at that point I got hired full-time as an EMT for PFD’s ambulance service. Then the day after I turned 21, I moved over to the fire side full-time.”

Training Emphasized

Training is an integral part of being a full-time or volunteer firemen.

“I went through EMT class and got certified. I just concluded paramedic school and will take the test (on April 16) for certification. I’ve had a lot of training on the EMS side. I went through the fire academy, vehicle extrication classes, hazardous materials classes,” Knobloch said.

“Everything is changing. Everything is different. Basically anything that you can encounter, we go to class for. We’re training every day at the Pontiac Fire Department. Training is from the basics of putting on your gear to the whole range of everything.

“The Gridley Fire Department also has training sessions two Thursdays a month. On the volunteer side, training is important because if you don’t do something for a while you start losing your skills. We’re always training to make sure that when you need it you know how to do it.”

Wade Knobloch grows corn and soybeans with his father and grandfather. As of mid-April, the equipment was ready to roll as they wait for the soil and weather to cooperate.

One of his favorite aspects in his role as a fireman is “being able to give back to your own community and know that when somebody is having their worse day that you can be there to help them,” Knobloch said.

“Everyone is there for everyone and it’s a big brotherhood,” he said.

“Every day is different. You never know what you’re going to go to,” he added. “A lot of it is the community and family aspect — especially in a small town, everyone knows everyone.”

A recent example where “everyone knows everyone” came into play and helped in a situation was on April 11 when the Gridley Fire Department was notified about noon about a grain bin entrapment.

Urbana, Normal, Pontiac, Streator, La Salle, Chenoa and Flanagan fire departments provided mutual aid with additional equipment and manpower.

The victim was extracted from the corn just before 8 p.m. He was taken to the hospital in stable condition and has since been released.

“We all know him and his family, so that definitely helped being there to comfort the family,” Knobloch said.

Spanning Generations

Knobloch’s paternal and maternal families have a long history of agriculture in central Illinois where he grows corn and soybeans with his father and grandfather.

Knobloch is a seventh-generation farmer and fifth-generation truck driver in the family.

“Grandpa is originally from Princeville/Wyoming area by Peoria. They ran Knobloch Grain Company. They owned several elevators. Grandpa then had the opportunity to come over here to Gridley and farm on grandma’s family ground,” he said.

“Grandma’s family, the Klopfensteins, owned the elevator here at Gridley. The family has been involved a lot in elevators and trucking.”

This year marks the 100th year that his family has been moving grain in and out and storing grain at the elevator in Gridley.

His great-great-grandfather, Elmer Klopfenstein, bought the elevator in 1924. He great-grandfather, Ralph Klopfenstein, later ran the elevator until it was sold in 1965.

The elevator is now owned and operated by Ruff Brothers Grain.

Diverse Operation

There’s diversity — and then there’s the Knobloch family’s diversity that includes a broad range of services beyond the farming operation.

“We have three semis, one that hauls grain. Grandpa pretty much hauls grain every day for the local elevators. We do dump trailer work. Anything you can put in a dump trailer, we haul,” Knobloch said.

“We’re usually hauling fertilizer in the fall. We haul liquid and dry fertilizer for Brandt Consolidated.

“Alongside that we have Knobloch Inc. and do excavating, commercial yard care, snow removal, field tile repair. We do all the digging when it’s needed for the Village of Gridley — water main, storm sewers, sewer mains.

“We do digging for quite a few local plumbers. We dig graves for nine cemeteries in the Gridley and El Paso area. We definitely have enough work to stay busy.”

Knobloch sees a lot in common between farming and firefighting.

“Farming is just like the fire department — everything is changing, everything is different. We try to evolve with the times,” he said.

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor