Firefighters and investigators received valuable hands-on training Friday in a deserted Bensenville neighborhood that has been tagged for removal to make way for expansion of O'Hare International Airport.
Several agencies - including the Bensenville and Chicago fire departments and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - participated in an advanced training exercise that Bensenville Chief Mike Spain called the Academy Awards of firefighting.
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"The training opportunities and the skills that will be learned are invaluable," Spain said.
Authorities started six fires in deserted houses and townhouses, using different accelerants each time. After the fires burned for set periods, firefighters extinguished the blazes and investigators entered the homes to determine what triggered the fires.
The tests were part of the ATF's recertification process for fire investigators. The process includes a two-year training program involving about 100 fire investigation scenes.
The exercise will continue next week with a residential blaze that Spain says will provide data and information for international fire departments.
"The training is hands-on and not that very often attainable," he said. "Not too many people give us a house to burn."
The neighborhood had been in dispute for decades as the airport sought to expand and build six new runways and a western terminal. In November, the village dropped several lawsuits that helped clear the way for the work.
Spain said the homes offered a "once-in-a-lifetime" chance to simulate real-life situations.
"If we experience something, the next time we're faced with a similar situation, we've been proactive," he said. "The results will be less damage, less loss of life, less injuries and it will be a win-win situation for residents and the fire and police departments."