The smoke was simulated but the fully equipped firefighters charging into the former Lakemoor village hall Tuesday morning responded as if it were an actual fire, lugging charged hoses up a narrow staircase.
Wearing full protective clothing and air packs, about a dozen members of the McHenry Township Fire Protection District were the first from the department to benefit from a unique training opportunity.
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"We can make a list of probably 50 different skills we'll practice here over the course of the week," said Deputy Chief Rudy Horist. "One of the main skills we're practicing this week is advancing the hose lines -- that and searching for victims."
Because of its size, warren of small rooms and steep, L-shaped stairway, the two-story cinder block building facing Lily Lake on Route 120 represents as good a training ground as it was an impediment to the village and the public.
"Anytime we get a building like this it's the best training we can get," said Lt. Mark Buchanan, who amid a swirling haze of theatrical smoke deemed the exercise to respond to a second-floor fire a success.
Personnel from all four of the district's stations, which cover 56 square miles and part or all of eight communities including Lakemoor, will participate in the training.
"This simulates more of a commercial building with the size of it and the two stories," Horist said. He also acknowledged the irony of their presence.
The former village hall was first built for the Lily Lake volunteer department in 1951. Five years later, the department was absorbed into the McHenry Township district and became Company 3, operating from the building until 1971.
"This building started its life as a firehouse and is ending its life training the firefighters from the same district," Horist said.
Additions followed and the Lakemoor village administration, police and public works departments moved in. The building was not handicapped accessible, however, and staff went to the ground floor from their second floor offices to assist those who couldn't navigate the 24 stairs.
"I've gained weight since we left, believe it or not," said Village Administrator David Alarcon.
Village offices were moved in May 2012 to leased space nearby. The village since has studied its needs and has been looking for a suitable location for a new municipal building, as the former site is too small for expansion.
In the interim, the village contacted the fire district as a "good neighbor" to see if it could use the building a last time, Alarcon said.
He said finding a site and moving ahead with a municipal center is a priority for Mayor Todd Weihofen and the village board. The disposition of the old site in the heart of an envisioned redevelopment area is to be determined.
"It served its purpose," Alarcon said of the old village hall, which is scheduled for demolition after fire training. "Are we happy to have this building down? Absolutely."