Joliet Catholic’s Chris Kinsella devotes time to fighting fires and coaching kids

An assistant coach with Joliet Catholic Academy, Kinsella has been fighting fires since 2006

Joliet Firefighter Chris “coach” Kinsella poses for a photo on Thursday, April 11. Kinsella is the defensive line coach for Joliet Catholic’s football which earned him the nickname “coach” at the station.

Some people know their calling from the time they’re a child. Others don’t find their true path until much later in life. But every so often, you’ll find someone who thought they knew what their path was only to discover the real journey they were meant for later on.

Count Chris Kinsella in that last category. The abrupt change in his career path, however, was just about the only thing in his life that hasn’t been consistent.

Kinsella, an assistant football coach for Joliet Catholic Academy and member of the Joliet Fire Department, is as Joliet as it gets. Born and raised here, growing up in the Cathedral area; attending St. Raymond School, JCA and the University of St. Francis; before getting a job with the fire department and working here ever since. You won’t find many who are more Joliet than that.

After graduating from JCA in 1998, Kinsella went to St. Francis, where he played defensive end for head football coach Mike Slovick. Although he majored in history with the goal of becoming a teacher, things changed early in his final season of playing. Specifically, something changed on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Like many Americans, Kinsella watched the news as the footage of the World Trade Center on fire aired across the TV. He noticed something other than the destruction, however, that called him to make a change.

Joliet Firefighter Chris “coach” Kinsella, right, sits with fellow firefighter Aaron Aguirre on Thursday, April 11. Kinsella is the defensive line coach for Joliet Catholic’s football which earned him the nickname “coach” at the station.

“I kind of switched focus watching the coverage [on 9/11]” Kinsella said. “Seeing the men and women in service running toward the danger when everyone else was running away I just thought, ‘Man that’s something I’ve got to try and do.’”

He realized he wanted to be a firefighter then, but had two more semesters to go in school. In 2002, Slovick offered him an opportunity to put his education and football experience to use as a student assistant with St. Francis’ team, which began his hunger for coaching.

“Once I started teaching the game, I realized I still loved being around it,” Kinsella said. “Once I started, I just couldn’t imagine not doing it. It just becomes addictive, it really does.”

After a year as a student assistant at St. Francis, he was moved up to defensive line coach, where he worked for two years. That was when his high school coach, Dan Sharp, gave him a call and asked him to work with the freshmen linebackers at JCA.

So, in 2005, Kinsella went to his other alma mater. After two seasons, he became the defensive line coach in 2007, the role he’s served in ever since.

The year before, he finally fulfilled his goal of becoming a firefighter. He’s spent the bulk of his career at Station 5 on Mason Avenue and Route 30. All the while, he’s coached football and, for the past 12 years, his kid’s basketball team at St. Raymond.

He has four children with his wife, Tina, the JCA softball head coach, to whom he’s been married since 2002. If you’re thinking, “firefighting, coaching, a wife and four kids? That sounds like a lot, You’re right.” Chris said he is rarely not busy.

“We got married in August of 2002, and I think the next day I went to football practice,” Chris said with a laugh. “It’s been a part of our lives forever. ... [Tina] understands the in-season stuff. Sometimes there’s things you can’t be around for because of it, and she’s been great throughout the whole process.”

For what it’s worth, Tina said Chris also finds time to help the softball team out while she’s coaching.

“He does a lot for our program and is considered our field guy,” Tina said. “He was one of the main people installing our batting cage and fence. He’s a big part of what we do and the girls know. Every year, ‘Oh, there’s Mr. Kinsella.’ It carries on into the community. I love it because he gives so much to everyone.”

Because the fire department works in 24-hour shifts, Chris usually is on one day and off for two. During football season, he has to miss one practice a week. He credits the staff at JCA for being willing to work with him and accommodate his schedule. His co-workers at the firehouse are understanding of his other job, and even call him “Coach.”

For what it’s worth, Chris has seen similarities in the two jobs that have helped him improve at both.

“Both are about a group of people working together toward a common goal, which is a really powerful thing,” Kinsella said. “When you get older in the fire department, you start teaching younger people how to do a job so there’s a correlation between both. You’re involved in stressful situations in both, so it teaches you to remain a bit calm during those times.”

Chris has helped JCA win three state championships and play for three more. He’s coached two of his younger brothers and has kids who will play for him soon. But more than any accolades or big moments, he said he remembers the great kids and families he’s met over the years more than anything.

He’s 43 and said he’ll do both jobs as long as they’ll have him. He hopes to still be coaching his 12-year-old son when he gets to high school, instilling the lessons Slovick, Sharp, line coach Dave Douglas and coach Cory “Mac” McLaughlin instilled in him.

As for finding your calling, Chris believes if you’re interested in coaching or becoming a first responder, you should give it a try.

“If you’re interested in doing it you should definitely try it,” Chris said. “Both are really rewarding. Some people do it and find that it’s not for them, and that’s fine, but that’s why I say you should definitely try.”