Urbana Fire Capt. Phil Kellenberger will retire Sunday after nearly 30 years of service with the Urbana Fire Division.
The division will hold a retirement party for Kellenberger from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday in the fire division, located in the city municipal building, 205 S. Main St. Residents are invited to drop by and congratulate Kellenberger, who will receive an award at 3 p.m.
A 1980 graduate of Urbana High School, Kellenberger spent four years in the Marine Corps. With some experience at Box 13, the Urbana Fire Division’s associate department, Kellenberger was hired in 1988.
Looking back, Kellenberger said he wanted an opportunity to help people in his community.
“It’s everything I could have hoped for,” Kellenberger said. “Everyday I’m here I just get that satisfaction – whether we go out on a call or not – that I’m here to help somebody and we go out and it’s their worst day whatever their emergency might be and to know that we show up and we help them through that it’s just so satisfying.”
Early in his career, Kellenberger said former Capt. Dave Torsell was helpful in helping him get hired and also cited former Chief Eugene Branstiter and other firefighters on his shift as big influences.
Kellenberger was appointed to the captain position in June 1995. He said he applied for the position because he wanted the chance to lead and make a difference in the community.
Kellenberger planned to work until 2018, but said spending time with his family made him start thinking about retirement.
“I enjoy spending time with (his grandchildren) and doing things with them, so it just got me thinking about ‘do I really want to stay until 2018,’” Kellenberger said. “I had a good conversation back in August with a fellow friend of mine that’s retired from a profession similar to ours and he just had some good words of advice and some things that he said that made sense to me. The more I thought about it, I had been telling myself it was time to retire but I just hadn’t been listening.
“This place is going to do fine without me. They were doing fine before I got here. It’s going to continue to work and evolve and the trucks are still going to go out here and people are still going to be helped whether I’m here or not.”
Urbana Fire Chief Mark Keller said Kellenberger has been enthusiastic in trying to improve how the division operates. Keller said the division will miss Kellenberger’s ability to think outside the box and constantly brainstorms on new ideas and ways to improve.
“He’s functioned in almost all aspects of the fire department as far as projects that he’s taken on or the positions of training officer and fire prevention,” Keller said. “He’s done almost every facet of our division so that will also be missed because he does bring a lot of experience from those times when he was doing those projects and put in those positions.”
During his career, Kellenberger was a training officer responsible for directing training efforts for the division.
“I really enjoyed that part of the job where I could teach firefighting skills to other firefighters whether they’re new and going through the certification process or whether they’ve been here for a while,” Kellenberger said. “For new guys coming on to the department there’s a lot things about our community as far as little things that are nice to know like where a certain street ends and another begins or addresses or things that someone may not know about and I enjoy passing that information down to them.”
As his career ends, Kellenberger said he will miss the challenges the job presents every day and more importantly his co-workers.
“It’s just a big family,” Kellenberger said. “Everyone’s looking out for each other. Everyone’s concerned about each other. We have our good times and our bad times amongst ourselves, but at the end of the day we’re all here for the same purpose – to help somebody out.”
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.