The early-morning fog of Saturday gave way to smoke as Evanston City officials and candidates for state office experienced firsthand some of what firefighters and paramedics face every day.

FIRE OPS 101, a morning of hands-on firefighting and rescue operations, took place in Glenview under the controlled supervision of the Evanston fire department and Evanston Firefighters Local 742. Members of the group boarded a bus at the Civic Center at 6:30 a.m. On the site, they pulled on their boots, suited up in protective gear and prepared to take the heat.

The purpose of inviting candidates and elected and appointed officials to the exercise was “to make sure the important decision-makers have the information they need to make decisions about resources, staff and equipment. They can feel the heat, the pressure, the pride and exhilaration a firefighter feels every day,” said Brian Scott, president of Local 742.

“Every single call we have to do right,” said Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky. The exercise was to demonstrate how that can be done.

Participants wore “all the gear, and they went into a burning property with a mentor,” said Chief Berkowsky. Anyone who felt hesitant about performing any task was encouraged to sit it out.

Wearing masks and using a special camera, they performed a search-and-rescue mission in a smoke-filled room. Although the temperature was 800 degrees (much cooler than a normal room fire, which can generate heat up to 1300 degrees), with a floor temperature of about 400 degrees, participants located a mannequin in need of rescue.

Keeping one’s bearings in such circumstances can be quite a challenge: “I was stunned by how disoriented I felt,” said Daniel Biss, a candidate for state representative.

“The temperature difference is terrific,” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward. “The first impulse is to leave. I admire the firefighters who push against that impulse and keep on going in,” she added.

Overcoming vertigo, acrophobia and the drag of heavy garments, many climbed three stories from the hook-and-ladder truck.

Teamwork prevailed, as even opposing candidates pulled a fire-hose into a smoke-filled building. Tim Gobat, secretary for the union, who helped organize the event, said the exercise “went very well. There was a great showing of personnel, and everybody went home safe.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...