Controlled live fire training is part of Fire Ops 101.Photo from Evanston Fire Department

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Elected officials and reporters from Evanston, Skokie, and Mount Prospect endured a hands-on firefighting and rescue training program from the Evanston and Skokie fire departments on Oct. 1.

Fire Ops 101, hosted by 75 firefighters from the three suburbs, put the 18 officials and media representatives, all clad in fire-fighting gear,  through exercises in CPR training, ladder climbing, vehicle extractions, and hose usage. Participants learned how to cut a proper ventilation hole in a roof, set up manual ladders, and navigate a building in low visibility conditions. The day’s final session subjected participants to a controlled live fire.

“The whole point is to educate the politicians and civilian population of what we really do on a daily basis,” said Evanston Fire Department Battalion Chief Bill Muno. “It’s one thing to talk about it and describe it to them, but for them to experience it for real, it has a much larger impact.”

Evanston previously co-hosted Fire Ops 101 in 2009, with Northbrook and Highland Park fire departments. Like 2009, this year saw a major change with City Council.

“The reason we did this is because in the last election there was a big turnover of aldermen on the council,” said Tim Gobat, an Evanston paramedic and Fire Ops 101 organizer. “We wanted to have this program to introduce them to the fire service and see what we do for a day.”

“The work of firefighters is very physical. It’s very manual,” said Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty. “You get a feel for that with a training like this, when you hold the jaws of life and you’re cutting open a car and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this thing must weigh 50 pounds.’ And you’re in 75 pounds of gear walking up two flights of stairs.”

Slicing a hole in a mock wooden roof, though, was little trouble for Evanston’s Mayor.

“I grew up on a farm,” Mayor Hagerty said. “I split a lot of wood. So I’m used to handling an axe.”

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said she participated to gain a lasting appreciation for the job.

“I’m making decisions about the city, so I should know what people’s experiences are,” Ald. Fleming said. “This is a major part of our City. I don’t want to make decisions based on what I think the job is like or based on assumptions. It’s important to have perspective.”

Many of the participants were surprised to learn that firefighters and paramedics usually operate on a cardiac arrest patient for about 20 minutes before they transport the patient to a hospital. CPR calls usually involve about eight to 10 first responders, each of whom has a different responsibility on the scene.

Four to five of the responders rotate shifts, doing constant CPR compressions for the full 20 minutes, switching out every two minutes.

“I kept saying, ‘I think I’m finished,’” Ald. Fleming said. “‘They kept saying, ‘you have another 30 seconds left.’ So I’m definitely grateful that those guys have all that training.”

Of the 18 Fire Ops 101 participants, 12 were from Skokie, five from Evanston and one from Mount Prospect. Mayor Hagerty, Ald. Fleming and Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite were the three Evanston elected officials to participate. The other two, including this writer, were representatives of Evanston media. Skokie Mayor George van Dusen participated as well.