Graduates George Abbott, David Blatt, Marilyn Danos, Ted Glasoe, Raul Gonzales, Rodney Greene, Joan Hickman, Peter Kaplan, Nick May, Rita Ryan-Novak, Mike Perlman, Hunter Polvi, Sarah Price, Elory Rozner, Fred Tanenbaum, Debbie Wiggins, Phillip Walker, and  John Wong with Fire Chief Greg Klaiber and FAO/PM Tim Gobat. RoundTable photo

On Nov. 13, 18 community members graduated from the Evanston Citizen Fire Academy in a ceremony held at the Evanston Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.  The nine-week program, offered this year for the first time, was provided by the Evanston Fire & Life Safety Services Department (EFD).

Tim Gobat, FAO Paramedic and director of the program, said the purpose of the program was to provide Evanston residents the opportunity to experience first-hand what firefighters do and to learn about the firefighters’ level of knowledge, their ongoing training and their dedication and commitment.

He told the audience of more than 100 persons, “There is no better job in the world than this.”

Robert Hoff, the keynote speaker and a former Fire Commissioner of the City of Chicago, told the graduates that his father had died in a search-and-rescue effort when a burning roof collapsed. He emphasized that training and education can limit risks in fighting a fire.

He said firefighters once focused solely on putting out fires. Now, he said, “We are an all-hazards agency,” performing rescue services in many situations, providing paramedic services and other services. He told the graduates, “You are now part of us because you’ve had a little taste of what we do.”

“It’s a life,” said Deputy Chief Hoff. “It’s not a career. It’s not a job.”

Evanston Fire Chief Greg Klaiber said the class was trained on all aspects of EFD’s operations. He read a letter written by George Abbott, one of the graduates, that said, “I have a much higher level of appreciation” of what everyone does. “The knowledge, bravery and dedication of members of the Evanston Fire & Safety Services Department cannot be overstated.”

As part of the program, the graduates broke down doors to enter a building in a simulated situation; pried open car doors using the jaws of life; were certified in CPR; they wore self-contained breathing units used by firefighters; operated fully pressurized fire hoses; entered buildings under simulated fire conditions in practice search and rescue missions; and observed water-rescue equipment, Hunter Polvi, one of the graduates, told the RoundTable.

While the program provided the graduates an opportunity to experience first-hand what firefighters do, many graduates focused on what they learned about the men and women themselves who make up EFD. Elory Rozner said the class had “a brief but powerful” encounter with the world that firefighters face. She focused in her remarks, though, on the “skills,” the “bravery,” the “sense of duty” and the “sense of pride” the firefighters bring to the job every day.

In thanking FAO/PM Gobat and the instructors in the program, Sarah Price said she and other graduates observed how the firefighters treated each other and the respect they showed each other. “I learned how to be a better person,” she said.

Chief Klaiber and FAO/PM Gobat said they were impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the class. They said they are exploring a continuing role for graduates of the academy.

FAO/PM Gobat said the program will be offered once a year. There are already 30 people on the waiting list for next year’s program.