Fire service brings childhood friends full circle in Libertyville
Two Libertyville firefighters who will be promoted to top spots next week share more than a long tenure on the department.
Mike Pakosta, who is being elevated to deputy chief, and Mike Hall, who will be named lieutenant and take Pakosta's place on the same shift, are hometown guys and childhood friends who met when they were 9 years old.
They lived on Lange Court in 1981, met while playing in the neighborhood and grew up to become good friends, Pakosta said. A few years later, Pakosta's family moved to Homewood Avenue and Hall's family soon followed. The Hall family moved again across town, but they both attended Libertyville High School, where their paths diverged.
"We kind of went our separate ways through high school due to sports and other different interests," Pakosta said. "We both went to different colleges and started professional careers really without keeping in contact."
By the mid-1990s, Hall was working a production manager for Caremark when he started as a paid-on-call firefighter with Libertyville.
"I'm not like an office guy sitting behind a desk," he said of his involvement with the fire service. In 2001, a full-time spot became available and Hall faced a tough decision, as he was making good money at Caremark and was offered more to stay.
"I said I was going to follow my heart. I'm happy I made that choice," Hall said of the career switch.
After high school, Pakosta attended Iowa State University and graduated with a degree in athletic training sports medicine. After graduation, he said, he became hooked on the fire service after enrolling in a paramedic program and working with the Des Moines department for field experience. He worked for a time in the Aspen area as firemedic and was working in Denver when he learned of an opening in his hometown.
Pakosta said he learned Hall was on the department while researching the position. "It was kind of nice because I hadn't talked to him in years," Pakosta said.
Hall said he was happy to hear from his old friend.
"He called me from Colorado and he said, `I'm thinking of coming back to Libertyville. How's the department.'" With a solid recommendation and family in town, Pakosta made the switch and began his tenure in 2002. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2014 and will become the first deputy chief the department has had in about 25 years, as the position has been vacant due to budget considerations.
Hall will move up from "blue shirt" to lieutenant. Both are scheduled to be installed during a village board meeting Tuesday.
"It was neat to get back in touch. Our moms are still friends." said Hall, who has been the firefighters union president since 2006
Did Hall and Pakosta envision fire careers when they were growing up in Libertyville?
"As kids, I think we all wanted to be firemen," Pakosta said. "However, I do not recall ever talking with Mike about chasing that dream. I think as we got older and made career decisions, we eventually chose the same profession."
The Libertyville fire department has 41 full-time employees and six or seven of them are Libertyville natives, according to Chief Rich Carani.
Pakosta reports department morale is high, teamwork is strong and leadership is committed to success.
"It's just like on TV -- we're all a family here." he said.
Also Tuesday, firefighters Mike Stanek, Tom Pitel, Mike Grempka, Justin Haedt, Andrew Yarc and Jered Woodward will be recognized for an award sponsored by Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital recognizing team efforts that save lives.