Elgin families get up close look at the dangers of house fires

Chicago Tribune 5 days ago

Firefighters’ demonstration of what it’s like to work a live fire and do a rescue from a burning building always has a powerful impact on people who come to the Elgin Fire Department’s October open house, Chief David Schmidt said.

“People will say afterward they didn’t realize there was that much smoke and fire,” the chief said Saturday at Fire Station Two, 640 Big Timber Road.

Movies and T.V. shows dramatize firefighters’ jobs but don’t show how much smoke a fire generates or how difficult it is for firefighters to see as they’re trying to rescue someone, he said.

“If you can do that in this kind of setting as opposed to real life, it’s always better," he said.

The department’s open house, always held during National Fire Prevention Week, provides an opportunity for residents to see what firefighters do and learn about fire safety, Schmidt said. It also gives the department a chance to showcase some of the units and tools the public doesn’t get to see very often, like the Drone Unit.

New this year was a demonstration of how to use a fire extinguisher by U.S. Fire and Safety. Steve Szwarga, who works with the Elgin company, showed families and children how to aim for the base of the fire rather than the flames. It’s a common mistake that could make the situation worse, Szwarga said.

Jessi Rogers has been trained before but never actually used one. She helped her son, 2-year-old Jayce, with the red canister to put out flames from a barbecue grill located a few feet away.

While the flames were controlled, other demonstrations showed a fire’s unpredictability.

“I think it’s a tremendous help for a lot of people have never seen a structure fire or a room on fire other than on TV,” Schmidt said. “They get to see how fast a fire grows and spreads. It opens a lot of people’s eyes about the importance of smoke detectors and fire safety."

The department’s official statistics aren’t yet available, but Schmidt said the number of fires in the city is down this year. He said he feels events like Saturday’s open house helps keep those numbers down.

The open house also allowed families to take a ride on a fire engine and down a fire pole, try on a fireman’s jacket, ride a peddle fire engine and see how a drone operates.

Last week, three Elgin City Council members got a chance to become firefighters for a day. Council members Tish Powell, Baldemar Lopez and Carol Rauschenberger participated in Fire Ops 101, hosted by the Naperville Fire Department. Elgin hosted last year, Schmidt said.

“I went into it knowing it was going to be challenging and obviously went into it with a great deal of respect and appreciation for the work that our firefighters and paramedics do in our community every day," Powell said at a recent council meeting.

“What I didn’t expect is how uncomfortable that equipment is that they wear every day, and how heavy it is and how challenging it is to have all the ongoing up and down ladders and doing some of the work they do,” Powell said.

Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.

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