After a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, La Grange Park’s Fire Department Saturday resumed its traditional fall Open House.
Several hundred people turned out on the sunny, temperate first day of October to get a glimpse of the equipment the village’s first responders use and absorb some practical education in fire safety.
“This is a really good crowd,” Fire Chief Dean Maggos said. “The good weather helped. What we want people to understand is how fast a fire can spread and how dangerous it can be. Make sure you have working smoke detectors.”
This year’s open house marked the 100th anniversary of the National Fire Prevention Week, originally conceived as a commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
It’s unclear how many years La Grange Park Fire Department has been staging its open house, but it’s a long-standing tradition.
“I’ve been here 21 years,” Maggos said, “and it predates my arrival.”
As in the past, the event was a huge attraction for families, with a huge percentage of the attendees bringing their young children so they might take part in the interactive demonstrations.
In addition to all the equipment on display, there were several stations concentrating on areas of interest, demonstrations of firefighting techniques, and learning exercises for the kids.
There were also hot dogs, refreshments and treats, and a raffle.
One demonstration was how department personnel use the “Jaws of Life” apparatus to extricate individuals trapped in vehicles after an accident.
The department gave a complete demonstration on an old Pontiac Grand Am donated by a local junk yard, including using “cutters” to gain access to the vehicle and “spreaders” to pry open blocked areas.
“We had a least 60 people to see the various ways to use the apparatus,” on-call firefighter Josh Johnsen said.
Another interactive exhibit was a tunnel designed to teach children how to “stay low” when a fire breaks out. The children crawled through the tunnel while carrying a kid-sized doll to safety.
Maggos walked a sizable crowd through a demonstration of the ability of a good sprinkler system to combat house fires.
Two rooms were set up then set on fire, one with a sprinkler system and one without.
The working sprinkler activated in 30 seconds and had the fire extinguished. The room without was in full blaze after four minutes; the average time it takes a department to reach afire is six minutes.
Maggos told the crowd that fire spreads more rapidly in today’s residences than in the past because modern furniture has a high content of plastic and synthetic material, as opposed to an earlier time when furniture consisted primarily of wood an natural fabrics.
“Get out fast,” Maggos said, stressing the importance of being prepared for fire. “We recommend practicing at home. We have fire drills at schools, so why not at home.”
The kids were often awe-struck by the fire engines and equipment used to keep them safe. Many lined up for rides on village fire trucks and tried on equipment used by department staff.
Fire personnel were happy with the turnout.
“This is probably the biggest turnout I’ve seen,” Pat Hurley said.
David Skiba has been an on-call firefighter for two years.
“I’m just part-time, but I’m doing what I can to help the Village,” he said.
Several Village officials were present.
“After a couple of years being shut-in, the community has come out to support our first responders,” Village President James Discipio said.
Trustee Mike Sheehan echoed Discipio’s sentiments.
“After COVID, people are able to get back to the community and interact with their neighbors,” he said.
For visitors, it was all about the effect the day would have on kids.
“We’ve only been in La Grange Park for a couple years and this is the first time we’ve come to this,” Amy Cholis said.
She attended with her three sons, Christopher, Jack, and Ryan and noted that Christopher, her oldest, wanted to be a fireman.
Judy and Rick Szafarz attended with their daughter, Mary.
“I definitely wanted her to see it,” Judy said, while Rick stressed that “It’s a good thing they do for the community.’
Hank Beckman is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.