Ron Kobyleski has been fighting fires for nearly four decades and has held every rank possible in the fire department, including serving as deputy fire chief for one year, battalion chief for 10 and training supervisor for seven. Now Interim Village Manager Lisa Shelley has appointed Kobyleski chief of the Oak Park Fire Department.
“All these years of doing all the different jobs that led up to this — they’ve really prepared me,” Kobyleski said.
He had been rotating interim chief duties with Battalion Chief Kevin Fadden, following the April retirement of former chief Tom Ebsen, who served the department for over 40 years. Fadden will act as deputy fire chief until the role is filled permanently.
Kobyleski officially assumed the role of chief on Nov. 19, just four days before a major fire broke out at the building housing Delia’s Kitchen, 1034 Lake St. Although the chief does not command battalions during fires, Kobyleski has been there, battling flames with the rest of the department — the proverbial baptism by fire.
Kobyleski mentioned that he is often asked if the fire department is busy.
“If we’re busy, that’s a bad day for somebody else,” he said. “But unfortunately, we’ve been very busy.”
Thankfully there were no major fire incidents over the Thanksgiving weekend, often a busy time for firefighters due to deep frying turkey mishaps, according to the new chief.
But the Oak Park Fire Department does much more than fight fires. All fire personnel are required to be licensed paramedics and the department always has two ambulances in service.
Running ambulances accounts for a large part of fire department operation and ambulance calls have been trending upward since the ’70s. Kobyleski told Wednesday Journal that the department received about 2,500 calls for service yearly when he started in 1985. The number of calls has increased considerably since then.
“We’re going to be higher this year than we ever have before,” he said. “We’re looking at 7,800 [ambulance] runs this year.”
One of Kobyleski’s goals as chief is to have the department’s third ambulance in service throughout the entire year by hiring more firefighters. The third ambulance is currently in service for a third of each year, as it can only be in service when the department has enough staff to run it.
“If we get three extra people, that will increase the amount of time it is in service to hopefully two-thirds of the year,” said the chief.
Kobyelski also plans to see the department’s three fire stations updated. Next year, the southeast station, 515 Garfield St., will undergo significant renovations to put in female and gender-neutral facilities. The department currently has one female firefighter on staff.
“That’s going to be a big help with that station,” he said.
The chief also wants the main fire station at 100 N. Euclid Ave. to receive the same treatment, as privacy there is limited. While the main station does have a female locker room, it is very small and there are only two showers in the men’s locker room.
“There’s not a lot of privacy for transgender folks,” said Kobyleski. “We’d like to try to make it a little more private in the shower bathroom areas, so that’ll be down the line.”
Kobyleski is a staunch ally of the LGBTQ+ community, according to his wife of 12 years, Colleen Kobyleski, a retired Oak Park firefighter.
“He is very progressive and is a big supporter of an inclusive and equitable workplace,” she said.
Before tying the knot, she and Kobyleski worked together for seven years, first meeting the day of her swearing in. They have been married for 12 years now.
Having watched Kobyleski ascend the ranks of the fire department, Colleen Kobyleski told Wednesday Journal she could not think of anyone better suited to be chief and called her husband a “natural leader.”
Shelley also sang Kobyleski’s praises. Although she was unavailable to comment to Wednesday Journal, she said in a village news release that Oak Park is “fortunate to have an individual of Ron’s training, expertise and experience” serving as chief.
Kobyleski noted that he is confident in the role of chief due to his experience. He called the promotion “quite an accomplishment.”
“I’m very, very honored and humbled to be the chief.”